John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC

Franklin, TN

Disgruntledness.  Sniping about senior management policies.  People who stop talking when you walk by.  They could be symptoms of office gossip, a productivity killer you don’t need.

Like it or not, gossip seems embedded in our daily life.  Sometimes it’s harmless, focusing on people who are in the public eye, anyway.  Other times, it can lower morale.  If left unaddressed, it can become a real problem.

One option is to make gossiping a fireable offense.  If you do, your policy must clearly define “gossip”.  If you should include email communication, be transparent about any monitoring you’ll do.  You need to call special attention to your policy during new employee orientation, perhaps to the point of getting a written acknowledgement of the rules.

Benign gossip, it’s been suggested, bubbles up from happy employees.  When those same employees perceive management as the enemy, however, they begin to gossip for their own personal benefit.  In this case, gossip is merely a symptom, and distracts from the underlying problem: disaffection.

Sometimes, modeling appropriate responses to gossip can be more effective than imposing new rules.  Kate Zabriskie, a communication trainer at Business Training Works in Port Tobacco, Md., offers these suggestions:

When someone tries to gossip with you, walk away or change the subject.

You can also say, “I’m not comfortable talking about _____.” Or state, “I don’t like talking about other people because I don’t like them talking about me.”

You can reply, “I hadn’t heard that about _____. Let’s go ask him or her.”

When someone gossips about you, say, “I heard that you’ve been saying the following about me. I would appreciate your coming to me directly with any comments rather than talking with others.”

Don’t gossip yourself. Then you don’t have to worry about someone betraying your confidence and telling other people what you said.

This approach should quickly halt destructive gossip.  The time that employees spend talking about “American Idol”, well, that’s a different problem.

John Borrowman