Gossip, when left unchecked, is among the top contributors to a toxic culture. Gossip erodes trust and psychological safety of both the individual and the team. And it can diminish the performance of both.
So, what can you do to keep gossip from becoming a cultural norm?
- Set expectations for open, direct communication
- Define gossip and give a simple tool for self-regulating
- Provide statements to help re-direct gossips
Years ago, when stepping into a new management role, I talked with the team about my vision for the culture. As part of the discussion, I set forth standards of behavior, one of which was, “Refrain from gossip.”
Immediately after the meeting, one of the team members knocked on my door and asked to talk. She told me she was offended that I would even list ‘refraining from gossip’ as a standard. After all, they are all professionals.
I admired her courage in disagreeing with me openly and told her so. It was important to me that we were all on the same page. I went on to share a method I use for filtering my own statements from gossip. This definition is a tool I have used and taught for more than two decades.
Before speaking, ask yourself if what you are about to say is:
- True – do you have all the facts?
- Necessary – is it necessary to share the information for the good of the team?
- Beneficial – Who will benefit from this information?
While many people will respond yes to the first two, the third is the one that stops the sharing. It is usually difficult to say definitively that someone will benefit when the “information” is really gossip. I’ve never had someone admit that they benefit because it makes them feel powerful.
The other tool that prepares and empowers team members is giving them statements they can use to respond when someone around them is gossiping. Examples include:
- By sharing this with me, you must think I will benefit from the information. What is the benefit you see?
- I’m glad to help you talk with this person directly to delve into the issue and give him a chance to clarify his thinking/actions.
Healthy cultures happen by design, not by default. Remember, what you permit you promote. Don’t ignore gossip or you will promote a toxic culture.
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