How Smart Managers Deal With Office Gossip

Mar 16, 2020

Business friends discussing brainstorming and ideas at meeting inside beautiful modern building place

If you want to grow your team, attract the best talent and improve office morale -- preferably by Friday -- you’re going to have to put an end to office gossip.

Sound impossible? It isn’t. Here are five strategies and some practical tips to help you make your office happier, more productive and gossip-free.

First, let's talk about what gossip looks like:
  • Badmouthing someone who isn't there to defend themselves
  • Bonding with Person A at the expense of Person B
  • Talking about someone instead of talking to someone
  • Asking questions that aren't ours to ask
  • Telling stories that aren't ours to tell

And while we can discuss separately why it happens and who's responsible, the point is simple: Managers who accept gossip as harmless or normal are creating the conditions that allow it to flourish. 

Count the cost(s)

See if any of these consequences sound familiar: 

  • Pettiness
  • Divisiveness
  • Drama
  • Wasted time and productivity
  • Diminished trust and morale 
  • Losing sleep -- and/or waking up frustrated

So how can you as the manager start to turn this trend around? 

Be transparent 

When there's bad news, share what you can as diplomatically as you can -- as soon as you can. Trust your team to handle it. Instead of treating them like rivals, enlist their help. 

Early in my career, the manager/owner I worked for did just that. On a Monday morning, he gathered the entire company into our large conference room and said, "I'm only going to say this one time. (So and so) is no longer with this company." 

It isn't that everything went smoothly from that point forward. There were still hurt feelings and disbelief. But it helped immeasurably that we all had the same information. 

When communication is vague or nonexistent, that's when the rumors start flying. Now you've got two problems instead of one. Better to level with your team, even if you're restricted in what you can share.

Lead by example

"Riot is the language of the unheard." - Martin Luther King Jr. 

If you want to put an end to office gossip, make sure your team knows they can come to you and be heard. That's one way to lead by example. Here are some more: 

  • Being loyal to those who are absent (Stephen Covey)
  • Respectfully holding each person accountable for his or her contribution to a problem
  • Stepping out of the role of mediator when two or more team members are at odds

That last point is tricky, because sometimes you do need to step in. But that shouldn't be the automatic first step. Better to get teams talking to each other, not simply talking to you.

Create a culture of accountability

Once you've set the example for how others should be treated, set the expectation for the rest of your team. This is where culture training in the workplace can be useful. 

A skilled trainer can help you clarify your message and convey it to the entire company.

I have often found in my own training that I can say things to employees that their managers can't or choose not to. And I can say it diplomatically (an old friend of mine used to call this my "gentle kick in the a*s" -- his term, not mine). 

The point is, if you want a better culture, one marked by high productivity and increased employee engagement, you can't do this all on your own. You need the entire team's support and participation.

A few practical tips:

  • Identify your expectations. For example, two of the greatest drama- and gossip-repellants you can use: respect and communication.
  • Get together with your team and determine what these expectations look like. For a hospital, for example, respect might mean putting away cell phones when interacting with patients or families.
  • Agree on how you will (respectfully) hold one another accountable. Positive peer pressure means less pressure on you. 
Finally, accountability means everyone knows the expectations, and everyone plays by the same rules. 

On a related note, my mother taught me from an early age: Never bring your boss a problem without first having one or more solutions. Not a bad policy for a culture of accountability. 

Show employees how to do their part

Again, this can be part of your culture training in the workplace. Using role plays and other interactive exercises, employees can start to experience firsthand what accountability looks like -- and how it feels when handled with respect and professionalism.

I have read at least two books recently that attempt to normalize office gossip and even tout it as a good thing. But do you know anyone who enjoys being on the receiving end? Me either.

You're better than that. If you set the expectations, your whole team will be better than that. I'm here to help you and your entire team succeed. Interested? Please reach out

P.S. How does your company promote respect in the workplace? Or how do you wish they did? 

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