Communication is an essential element of any culture. But what and how information is communicated shapes the organization. Some forms of communication are highly desirable including storytelling and recognition. But one form of communication that is truly detrimental to a healthy culture is gossip. The subject of gossip comes up frequently in manager coaching sessions and can be a challenge. I won’t fall into stereotypes about gossip being a more female trait because I’ve seen it flourish and erode morale in both male and female workforces.
Why does gossip flourish in some departments while is virtually non-existent in others? What you permit you promote. Any bad behavior that goes unchecked has the potential to weave its way into the fabric of the culture. Even as a young nurse manager I set clear expectations for my staff about the need to keep gossip out of the department. I recall being challenged by one nurse who took offense that I would even put a statement about avoiding gossip in the behavioral standards. It turned out that she was one of the worst offenders I’d ever seen.
What intrigues me about gossip is just how often the worst offenders don’t see themselves as the spreaders of unconstructive blather. Here is the 3-part filter that I ask people to use when deciding if their chatter is gossip or not. These include: Is it true? Is it necessary? Who will benefit from this information? The rule I use is that they have to answer yes to the first two and give a solid case for the third in order to justify sharing the information. I’ve shared this filter with many leaders over the years and find it to be a great tool for defining and squelching unnecessary gossip that can erode morale and degrade the culture.