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The Gossip Grapevine – Putting a Halt to Damaging Behavior

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Gossip and rumors. We see it portrayed in cartoons, played out in comedy sitcoms such as Modern Family, and listen to tunes such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by singer Marvin Gaye. We even have gossip columns such as TMZ all in the name of finding the latest scoop. For the most part, we have this need to know.

Gossip takes many forms from amusing tidbits, exaggerated news, and misinterpreted information all of which gets passed quickly from person to person and in lighting speed through the social media networks.

And then, you have the insidious and negative rumors that often imply a more sinister motive. For example: “Hey, did you hear about Bob? I can’t believe they are promoting him. Don’t they see he is not a people person? He is a horrible supervisor. Management just won’t listen to us.”

When this kind of office gossip occurs in the workplace and gets out of hand, it can have a very destructive impact on employee morale, create a hostile work environment, and ultimately, damage a business’ reputation. Unfortunately, gossiping is a behavior that is here to stay. It is practically impossible to stop people from talking and sharing information.

So, what motivates people to gossip, especially when the gossip can be destructive or hurtful to the individual, team or organization?

Often, the unknown that comes as a result of change creates fear, anxiety and confusion. We feel the need to talk about the question “what’s going to happen to me?” to others as a way to deal with our anxieties and fears. Let’s take a look at what is happening all around the country – layoffs. For example, a company orchestrates a layoff. The employees know the layoff is coming, they even know the day and the time of the layoff. What they don’t know are the specifics mainly WHO. An employee overhears a manager talking about the details. Within two hours, some of the details spread throughout the company causing misunderstandings, panic, and unnecessary pain. The communication plan that was supposed to alleviate employee concerns and spare them unnecessary stress was defunct. Leadership had to shift from planning to crisis management in just a few hours.

Employees choose to gossip as a way to seek support, to feel justified or heard and to protect what they feel is threatened. In the case of a layoff, they want to protect their jobs. People who have the need to gossip are fulfilling an underlying need to talk about their concerns with someone they feel safe with and can trust. On the other hand, the compulsive “office gossip” who has earned a reputation as someone not to trust is fulfilling a need to feel important and to feel included when in reality their very actions prevent them from getting what they truly need and at a cost to others.

So, how can you distance yourself from the rumor mill? Don’t visit. It should be no surprise that it starts with you. If you want to stop the gossip grapevine from growing, you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions and stop engaging in gossip. How do you stop? The first key is to understand what motivates you to gossip about others or to listen to gossip. What do you gain by doing this? Answer this honestly.

The second key is to go to the source of information to stop the grapevine from growing. If you hate the destructive nature of gossip, and you want to see it stopped, choose to address your concerns directly with the right person. In the case of a layoff, the best thing to do is talk with your manager or Human Resources. If you hear negative things are about you, consider going directly to the person who said them. It can be an especially scary thing to do if you don’t like confrontation.

Here are some steps to address the person who is the source of gossip directly and productively.

  1. Don’t assume what you heard through the rumor mill is what was said or intended from the source.


  1. Reflect on what you heard that causes concern.  Why is it a concern? Once you identify this, you will be better equipped to voice your concerns.


  1. Ask the person who was the source of gossip for time to talk. Barging into someone’s office or cubicle without warning does not create a safe atmosphere to talk.


  1. Approach the person without attacking or blaming. Don’t start the conversation with “Stop spreading rumors about me that are not true.” Instead, you might say “I heard some things that upset me, and I need to talk with you about it.”


  1. Clearly communicate your concern using I-statements such as “I am concerned about losing my job based on what I heard. I need to get accurate information.” Or, “What I told you was in confidence, and now, people are misinterpreting the situation.”


Patricia M. Porter

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach®


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