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#psychology

What Do You Do When Your Company’s Drowning in Gossip?

Article October 29, 2018  |  Text by Markéta Miková Text by Markéta Miková

We’ve all encountered gossip in our lives, and we all know that much of it is laughable at worst. And that there’s other gossip that can carry lots of negative energy and pain. Gossip as a method of informal communication within a company can support its culture, or devastate it. In the latter case, what are some effective antibodies against this droplet infection?

First, a little gossip theory. The usefulness of harmless, nice gossip lies in informal communication and verbal support for the social life of a given group. It’s often small talk that basically informs people and fills in what official corporate communication has left out.

People who are closer to the source and who are able to share information effectively naturally have an information advantage. And that increases their social capital and informal authority. Be sure to cooperate with these people when you’re communicating changes at your company.

Negative gossip — slander — is in a different weight class. It has a lot to say about a company’s culture, and it can thoroughly dissolve that culture. It’s full of poisoned thorns that harm people’s good names, reduce trust among them, and degrade the morale and efficiency of employees, a team, or even a whole company.  

How to Heal a Company Culture

One hedge fund in America decided to clamp down on gossip in an inspiring way. All of the employees at Bridgewater Associates are acquainted with what the company considers as gossip, and are also informed that the spreading of negative and hurtful information is undesirable. Employees who are caught spreading gossip receive a warning, and after three warnings, they are fired within the hour.

You might find this fund’s policy to be too strict, but it conforms to the basic recommendation on what to do if you’ve decided to change the situation at your company:  

  • define unwanted behavior
  • acquaint employees with your definition
  • coach your company’s best-known gossips
  • use disciplinary measures when it becomes necessary

A Deeper Look at Gossip  

Although we tend to associate gossip with women, the reality is that men are no slackers here. In fact, according to research by the British firm OnePoll, men devote an average of 76 minutes to gossip every day, with women gossiping for only 52 minutes a day. Men’s and women’s gossip topics also differ by gender:

Men Women
Drunken friends Other women
News News
Old school friends Relationship problems
Female colleagues at work Other people's relationships
The sexiest girl at work Sexual relationships
Spreading rumours Friend's weight gain
Promotions Soap operas
Sexual relationships Other women's boyfriends/husbands
Salaries The mother-in-law
The boss Celebrities

Source: The Telegraph

Although this research is 10 years old and involved a limited sample — 5,000 respondents — in a single country, the UK, we can assume that the main topics bridge across time and space.

What Should You Do When They’re Gossiping about You?

It’s definitely worth it to think about why they’re doing it and what’s behind it — and whether it might be true. There’s no smoke without fire, as they say. If you’ve done your homework and confirmed that the gossip is irrational, then you need to act directly, but also impersonally. Speak face to face with the person in question and let them know that you know about their behavior, that it bothers you, and that you’d like it to stop.

Most people will think about their actions and really will stop. But if you have a workmate with whom you can’t work things out nicely, one who continues their slander, then you need to work top-down and immediately discuss the matter with your superior. Because a friendly atmosphere and trust are key for cooperation.