Socializing at work is essential for effectively managing stress. Sharing experiences, talking about struggles, and connecting with others actually helps employees and leaders alike to be more adaptive when facing crises or taking a risk to bring forward an innovative solution. Leader-employee relationships that are responsive and attentive to one another, with lots of back-and-forth interactions, build safety, trust, and transparency into the workplace experience.
Gossip, however, does not carry the same benefits as socializing, even though it often happens in the same circles. Gossip is defined as tittle-tattle, a casual chat or unconstrained conversation about other people.
To the one’s who gossip, there is nothing little or casual about the stories they tell. That is why they are gossiping. They believe their point makes them big and unusual, and they believe their tale is big and unusual.
There is perhaps one thing worse than spreading gossip, that would be listening to it. Why do we listen? Is it because we are bored? Is it because we love entertainment at the expense of others? Or, is it because in some ways we are still childish and in much need of maturation? Perhaps, we are drawn into the drama of gossip because it makes us feel better about ourselves by judging others as less.
Gossip is a social “dis-ease” stemming from those triggered by past painful learning. It does nothing to address distress in the workplace. It does not resolve problems and it does not help teams regain lost momentum in or after a crisis.
Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus from MIT’s Sloan School, said, “The most deeply entrenched elements of organizational culture are the least visible.” Certainly, gossip qualifies as one of those entrenched elements that go unnoticed or unaddressed.
What are the conditions that tend to ignite and fuel gossip?
- Crisis situations
- Poor economic conditions
- Bureaucratic pressures
- Cultural unrest
- Rising fears in the labor market
- Heightened ambiguity
- Massive changes of any kind
Gossip feeds into Spirals of Mistrust, creating climates of constraint where subordinates will pull back and brace for impact. Meanwhile, those who are dependent, passive, and conforming are the ones who get promoted.
When is the temptation to gossip most likely to occur?
- Talk in the “hallway” before or after a meeting when some feel freer to share their thoughts, but were unwilling to make a public stand in the meeting
- Talk that discusses a person who is not present; particularly if that person is not seen in an affirming light
- Talk about a problem with others, but never with the ones who are essential to its resolution
- Talk that is deficit focused instead of asset focused
- Talk that is more concerned with complaining than with resolving
- Talk that is accusing and blaming
- Talk that leaves others feeling helpless and hopeless
If we want to stop the gossip, then we not only need to stop talking it, we need to stop listening to it. Instead, let us expose ourselves to something better and elevate our conversations more reflective of what is just, right, and honorable.
What change can you make to expose yourself less to gossip and more to environments that grow and expand your potential? One thing I have done, as an example, is turning off sources that masquerade as news agencies. Some time ago, I stopped watching and listening to those who supposedly talk about the news, but are actually more interested in dysregulating an easily suggestible public.
I offer this suggestion. Gossip is actually a substitutionary word, which disguises its real impact on others, and on the workplace. What if we called this kind of speech by what it really is, evil speech. Gossip is evil speech because it is profoundly immoral and wicked. Whether it includes facts or fiction, it is in every way dishonorable for the ones talking it and listening to it. It victimizes people. Evil speech never helped a struggling employee become productive. Evil speech never showed a supervisor how to become a better leader. Evil speech never motivated an undisciplined student to focus and finish their course.
If we were to recognize gossip as evil speech, just how prone would we be to listen to it? To tune into it? To repeat it?
Can you imagine yourself reading an “evil speech” column or post? Adding an “evil speech” tag? Watching an “evil speech” talk show? Participating in workplace “evil speech?” Who do you know would take pride in marketing their podcast as, let’s talk evil about celebrities and those in high places?
If we called it by its truest nature, would any of us want to be known as an evil speaker, or worse, an evil listener?
While many are concerned about national borders, where are the borders for our mouths?
While health-conscious individuals are worried about what the mouth ingests, why are we not paying attention to what the mouth spews?
Until we find better things to say about one another, especially those with whom we disagree, no masks, no mandates, and no vaccines can effectively filter evil speech and keep us from being impacted by it.
Blessings and cursings coming out of the same mouth is not simply a contradiction. It is a fallacy. This is not a matter of sometimes being good and sometimes being bad. Our habitual speech patterns are either giving life or taking life. People either feel safe and find us trustworthy having been in our presence, listening to our words, or they feel the need to fight back in defense or run when they see us coming.
Gossip — that is, evil speech — is hindering meaningful workplace relationships, and further, is interfering with teams finding their resiliency in the face of adverse conditions.
Dr. Roderick Logan is a Senior Faculty member and Director of Organizational Programs at the Arizona Trauma Institute. As well, he is Senior Faculty at the Trauma Institute International. He also provides consulting through his Making Space to Heal company.