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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Workplace Doctor: Don’t stand idle dealing with the office gossip

Office gossip can spread like wildfire if action is not taken. Gossipers are only successful at the art of workplace disruption if those who interact add fuel to the fire.

What should you do with the office gossip? A member of my team spends most of his day discussing the latest hearsay, rumours or scandal with the colleagues around him. While everyone should be allowed a little idle banter, spreading rumours that are potentially damaging to other team members is not helpful. How can I address this? KR

Hi KR, While I’m happy to receive your letter, I would have liked to understand your position more. When you refer to “a member of my team”, I’m left wondering if you are heading up the team or indeed a team member whose position is on equal level with that of the offending person. With that in mind, here are a couple of scenarios for you to consider:

1. If this behaviour is from a colleague

“How can I address this?’ is a question that makes me want to shout from the rooftops: “Take a stand and make a choice whether you wish to be influenced or not, buy in or stay out, be an active participant or draw your boundaries.” It’s as easy as that really. When something doesn’t feel right, to fix it is an easy equation; do less of what makes us feel bad or uneasy and more of what makes us feel great.

Let’s say you decide not to become involved. What can often happen is that the source of the gossip can sense your disconnection from it, and will be likely to redirect his focus and prey on those who are easily influenced by it. This will definitely have consequences for you; you won’t be aware of the reality of the situation. However you can still get that from others who hold less malicious intent.

There are other ways to handle this by allowing the gossiper to interact with you then stating clearly to the offender your opinion about his habit. These people are only successful at the art of workplace disruption if those who interact add fuel to his fire, for example, team members continuing the topic over lunch or using visually-supporting cues such as reinforcing laughter at the wrong times.

2. If you are the team leader experiencing this behaviour from one of your team

Evidence. Data and measurement can only happen when there’s a standard, template or expectation provided.

Ask yourself:

• What encourages this behaviour in my office environment?

• What could exist as a deterrent that doesn’t currently exist?

• How can I strengthen my team’s coherence so gossip cannot become a destabiliser?

These are all great questions but unfortunately it appears that this rot already has a hold in your team, and hence you have no choice but to react, rather than proactively build a culture.

Reaction 1: Use general communication channels

• Take every opportunity to reinforce expectations of human interaction without looking obvious or focusing on him. This should give the offender a chance to work out your disapproval for himself.

Reaction 2: Face-to-face discussion, with ongoing performance coaching or counselling

• To be fair, we must give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to provide you with his justification for the gossip – who knows, it may be his way of attracting attention and he’s certainly achieving that. However, no matter his reasons, this is your opportunity to work one-on-one to eradicate the behaviour.

Reaction 3: Discipline

Should this unhealthy practice persevere, it’s time for discipline. If you don’t do this, the cancer will simply spread and undermine any hopes of productivity you have. Tamara Mellon, a co-founder of Jimmy Choo, once said of gossip: “I don’t really care for gossip. I care for building great businesses”. What would your quote on gossip be, KR?

Doctor’s prescription

Suffocate gossip at every opportunity. Develop your own gossip treatment and apply liberally.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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