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Gossip and its Effect on Corporate Culture


 
As the founder and vice-chairman of The Handel Group’s corporate coaching division —and as coach of our top executive clients —I invariably find that when I step into a corporation to start working with an individual or team everyone is gossiping. It’s just a way of life in their workplace and everyone thinks that it’s just fine. In fact, the employees actually argue that it makes them feel better to “get stuff off their chest”….and then, they tell me, they can go about their day.
I don’t buy that theory! And I tell anyone who throws it at me, “I think you just sold out.”
Let me explain…
I’ve been asked to address this topic numerous times…. at WSJ.com, Businessweek.com, International Newsmedia Marking Association World Conference 2010 as a speaker…and time after time, here’s what I say:
It is a crime to gossip. It’s a crime to listen or participate in gossip — yes, to listen too! If you let X person tell you about Y person and you can’t do anything about Y person because you are not their boss, what are you really listening for? To be friends with X? To hope X will listen to you when you want to gossip about another co-worker? Unless you are listening to coach them to go back to Y and do something constructive to improve a situation or relationship, what are you accomplishing?
If you are coaching them in how to work with Y, then give them a time limit so it doesn’t become an open-ended gripefest. And give them a deadline by which you want them to have spoken to Y constructively. And  if they don’t go speak to Y by then, then you will tell on them — by that I mean, you will tell on them to themselves. You will say, “You said you were going to tackle this. Why haven’t you?)
Why do it this way? Because you want the culture of your company to be one of dealing head on with upsetting issues. Gossip may be a lot of things, but is not dealing with issues head on!
Gossip is a form of manipulation. It frequently comes from being hurt, offended or scared. Gossip is a theory that we develop in our own heads — or with the collusion of our friends, family and co-workers — as a way of building a case against someone by bringing individuals into cahoots to adopt our theory.  Theories are usually just excuses for not finding out what is really motivating the person we’re gossiping about!
Gossip is a coward’s way of not dealing with a relationship head-on.
It come from a person not having the integrity or the audacity to deal straight on with an issue or a person. They can’t bring themselves to engage in the real conversation, which they fear, so they go underground with it. They gossip.
Mostly gossip concerns very upsetting issues, issues that need to be addressed. So usually what folks are gossiping about is important, not meanness or idle  “entertainment.”
When it’s just mean entertainment, the reason to stop the mean entertainment, you should stop it anyway! The person engaging in that kind of mean entertainment looks at life like that, that person ends up being that toxic to themselves and to you! That kind of judgment is polluting to the person thinking like that. So help them….
But if it’s something you are upset about, outraged about, the real dare is to figure out how to communicate it and address it without getting yourself or the person in trouble.
Most people justify to themselves never having the hard conversations, so the coaching is really about how to get them to stop passing the buck and getting away with gossiping. If you are gossiping you really want to make a change, impact something. Coaching is about teaching you that you are really just a self-justifying chicken who should figure out how to frame the problem and attack it and have the courage to deal and if you do, you  will be thrilled and proud of yourself.…. Our next blog: how to have the hard conversation.
The Handel method is all about finding ones courage and how to say it right.