Gossip In The Workplace

February 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

Gossip Like A Cute Kitten With Claws

Gossip sounds so innocent.  It’s kind of like a white lie.  You know you shouldn’t do it, but somehow adding the word “white” strangely makes it seem ok.  But the word gossip doesn’t even require the colorful adjective, it just sits there like a cute little kitten.  You never even feel it’s claws come out, until it’s too late.  On top of that, gossip isn’t easy to define, which is just another reasons it’s so prevalent in the workplace.

It can feel therapeutic in the moment.  Something or someone has pissed you off, so it just feels natural to talk about it.  It’s almost impossible to stop from happening.  And to be honest, in some cases, getting a second opinion can actually be quite helpful.

It’s the intention that matters.  Are you talking about your problems so that you can figure out your next move?  Or are you simply complaining so that you can feel justified?  Are you tearing someone down to make yourself feel better or are you getting another opinion before you take it to the next level?

If you are a fan of Dave Ramsey and Entreleadership, then you know that Dave defines gossip like this, “Gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.”

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That seems so simple.  And if you really examine what he’s saying, it is.  Here’s the caveat though; if you know that your boss won’t listen (because you’ve tried numerous times), then you probably feel like you have no other choice.

No matter what level you are in a company, if your leader is unresponsive, or worse yet guilty of gossip himself, then you have an even bigger problem than what you are gossiping about.  However, unless it’s the owner himself, you CAN lead in this area!

I’ve personally seen this situation play out on numerous occasions and it can poison an entire team and an entire organization if left unchecked.

But you have a choice to make.

You can give in or you can squash it.

You can allow it to happen or you can let people know how dangerous, poisonous, and unproductive it is.  Will this make you popular?  Nope.

What it will do is set the tone for your next statement:

“Ok Mr. Gossip, if this situation is so bad, then what are you going to do about it?”

“Gossips” will usually respond with some excuse as to why they can’t do anything about because they’ve already tried; it’s pointless.  Don’t let them off the hook!  Call them out.  Suggest a next step.  Elevate the problem to an authority figure, find a solution, or get over it.

Hold your ground on this.  It’s worth it!  When you give in to these primal urges (or witness others doing it without reproach), it can become a habit.  Many a good person has fallen into this temptation.  I’ve even been guilty myself.  I beg of you now, please rise above this productivity thief and help squash this culture crushing phenomenon once and for all!!!

Question: Have you ever had a boss that talked trash about his own team members behind their backs?  How did you handle it?



  • I’ve dealt with it more than I ever cared to. And I learned how to stop it: http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/four-ways-to-shut-up-a-gossip/

    Ultimately, you have to be MEAN about it. You have to hare gossip like a vampire hates the sun.

    Otherwise…it will always get worse. Gossip doesn’t fade away. It gets hammered out or it gets worse.


    That’s great advice Matt! You definitely have a good perspective on it.

    I love the Rick Warren quote, “Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it makes you just as guilty of the crime.”

    The thing that I see some people struggling with though is when the person in authority is guilty of it. If you call them out that harshly, you could get yourself in some real hot water. Not everyone can pull that off. Sometimes it takes some convincing in one-on-one settings. Baby steps if you will.

    Of course if that doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time to look for a new boss. 😉