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The Dangers of Office Gossip: Pope Francis Weighs In


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Pope Francis may not have specifically preached about the evils of office gossip during his recent U.S. visit, but he has often discussed the dangerous consequences of this “harmful chatter…that continually sows tensions.” In fact, he’s spoken about gossip on at least three occasions, and his message is clear: don’t do it!

(Paraphrasing, of course.)

In the workplace, gossip can do an enormous amount of damage—whether the information is true, partially true, or completely false. It can ruin reputations and destroy relationships (both professional and personal). And yet people still engage in this judgmental activity that often betrays confidences, obliterates trust, and severely undermines a team’s ability to work together effectively. It happens everywhere; no workplace is immune.

Why do professionals gossip?

Many times, gossip gives people a sense of power as they collect and trade stories as a form of collateral. They want to feel like they are “in the loop,” so they deliberately gather and share tidbits of information to help create that illusion. Some people do it under the mask of concern for others. In fact, their words may actually sound caring, but your gut can usually confirm that the intentions are destructive.

What’s the personal impact?

You may be thinking, “Gossip is something that happened in the halls at high school. I am a professional, and this doesn’t really concern me.” Before you write that off, take a moment to consider whether you have ever passed along “rumblings” about a colleague’s unexpected absence or suspicions of an office romance. Even those with the best of intentions can sometimes slide down that slippery slope.

Unfortunately, gossiping at the office has serious consequences:

  1. Gossipers may be labeled as unprofessional and not suitable for higher-level positions.

  2. Supervisors and managers may assume those with time to gossip must not be working.

  3. Co-workers who hear someone gossiping about others will wonder what is being said behind their backs, creating an underlying atmosphere of tension and distrust.

  4. Businesses that allow gossip to run rampant often have low morale and camaraderie, which negatively impacts collaboration and productivity.

One of my clients actually left a great executive position with a highly rated school district because she said the organization was filled with gossipers. Another client chose to leave his job at a successful family business because talking about everyone else was the cultural norm. The web of stories was so unprofessional and unrelenting that he felt his only choice was to escape the toxic environment.

How do you stop the habit?

As an executive coach, I try to help my clients develop strategies to stay far away from the dreaded rumor mill. Even if you are not a chronic office gossiper, these tips may help you avoid the temptation (and the ramifications that come with it).

  1. Start by thinking positively about colleagues and co-workers, focusing on gratitude for their skills and contributions. Your positive thoughts will be reflected in your words.

  2. Work to improve your attitude about others and their motivations. Filter out any traces of skepticism and judgment, and deliberately shift to a position of care and concern.

  3. Be prepared with a gossip-protection game plan. If someone else in your conversation begins to gossip, find something positive to say about the individual in question, change the subject, or excuse yourself from the group. Continuing to absorb the information will negatively affect your view of the person being discussed (perhaps needlessly), as well as the one sharing the information. Everybody loses.

  4. Avoid participating in passive gossip: listening and remaining silent, but using approving body language such as nodding your head in agreement.

  5. Take an inclusive approach to teamwork. Make sure key players aren’t excluded from meetings or communications, which might inadvertently give the impression of gossip. People may begin to worry that they are the topic of conversation and aren’t there to defend themselves or their groups. It never feels good to be left out.

  6. Minimize your exposure to gossipy talk shows and TV Consider investing that time for professional development or strengthening your relationships with others.

The next time you start to say something that could possibly be perceived as gossip, think about Pope Francis’ stance on the subject. (Or for that matter, the Jewish Torah and the Bible.)

Don’t do it.

It’s not worth jeopardizing your career. Instead, consciously shift your words to make a positive impact, supporting your colleagues and adding value to the organization. That kind of contribution will definitely get people talking—in a good way!

I’d love to hear your suggestions for other ways to foster an inclusive, caring, gossip-free workplace.

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Photo By Jeffrey Bruno (Pope Francis) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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