Transforming work gossip into positive communication
Work gossip is something we all hear, and some of us even indulge in spreading it, whether in person during a smoke break, at the water cooler, via text or through email.
There are mixed views about gossip; some consider it toxic, while others say it’s healthy. It’s not necessary that all gossip is bad; it can be turned into positive communication. Gossip isn’t just a frivolous pursuit or guilty pleasure. While it creates power hierarchies, it also strengthens bonds and is an important form of communication.
How should managers and leaders approach the gossip in their organization? The right way would be to not fight it but use it in a constructive way.
Managers and leaders can use gossip to increase productivity in their business. The mistake most managers make is turning a deaf ear to this idle talk. They want employees to stop talking and get back to work. If it isn’t constructive dialogue, they shouldn’t waste time on it. However, gossip continues whether leaders want it to or not. In fact, the more they try to avoid it, the more it gets out of hand.
Of course, gossip can range from talking about which employee is about to get married to rumours about the impending layoffs. Managers might not be able to stop everything, but here are some ideas about how they can use the information that’s transmitted in gossip to be meaningful to their business:
1) Establish a problem-resolution environment
Firstly, as a manager, you should be able to deduce if your workplace has a gossip culture, characterized by frequent complaining on the part of employees to bosses, as well as negative talk among employees. If yes, then the leader needs to address the negative aspects of gossip head on. A problem-resolution environment entails that employees make a commitment to only talk about another person when that person is present, and not behind their backs.
2) The art of redirection
Gossip is fun because it’s juicy and secretive. Team members get excited and share it quickly. Imagine treating relevant work news with the same excitement. It would spread important information quickly and with enthusiasm. Have an update on a project? This is a great opportunity to put your skills into action and let others know! The important differentiator is that communicating exciting, relevant topics in the office leads to idea generation and productivity, to improving your own communication skills radically, and can help advance the entire team.
3) Honesty first
Team members should use gossip to better communicate their problems to other teammates or with management. The workplace simply isn’t the right environment for vague, wholesale venting. Instead of sharing or complaining about another person’s difficulties, try to identify the correct person whose position or interpersonal skills make him or her the right person to address the issue. Then, discuss your information with that individual in a respectful, appropriate way. If your situation concerns another team member, don’t complain to co-workers. Seek out management or resources in the HR department.
4) Client-facing communication
Why do people love to gossip? For starters, engaging in this type of communication can foster a sense of intimacy between co-workers and friends. Reformed gossipers can analyse the way chitchat creates trust and connections and use this to their advantage, especially with customers by disclosing appropriate information to them in a way that makes them feel important, valued and privy to company happenings. Sales teams leverage this kind of rhetoric to their advantage all the time. Friendly client-facing communication isn’t gossip. On the other hand, it is constructive because it can lead to better relationships and better sales.
5) Focus on the positive
Gossip is damaging because it breeds negativity. Spreading good news and achievements can be a great alternative. Management should lead by example in this regard, and it’s easy to start. Make it a habit to recognize and share accomplishments made by associates on all levels. Leaders should be clear about which types of communication are acceptable and encourage this positive sharing of conversations which could take your team to the next level.
Gossip is not necessarily a problem, but should be viewed instead as a helpful red flag. Gossip is a symptom of larger issues that the employers need to deal with — that of disempowered employees, a need for better communication and more problem-solving skill training for everyone at the organization.