I have mixed views about office gossip. On the one hand, it can be a great way to gain intelligence about what’s going on and who’s moving where, especially if such news tends to trickle out slowly from the top. And I just read a study that said kidding around at work—especially about things associated with the job—has a positive impact on the workplace.
But there’s no question that straight-up gossip can cut into morale and lead to false rumors, too.
Sam Chapman of Chicago’s Empower Public Relations firmly believes it’s toxic and, six months ago, he issued an edict to his 15 staffers to say that all gossip had to stop. The motivation was his own work with a life coach, he says, as well as meeting he attended through the Young Presidents’ Organization. “It’s easier for people to address concerns with someone else than the person they’re really upset about,” he argues.
So how did he stop it? He just told his people that anything said about a colleague would immediately be conveyed to that person, and the source would be revealed. “If you talk to me about someone, it’s as good as talking to that person.” Chapman says the office dynamics have markedly improved since then as “people have learned how to address each other on issues.”
The approach sounds a little Orwellian in execution. What if someone has ethical issues or is facing harassment from a colleague? The guy who quietly wonders whether a person’s expanding belly could indicate pregnacy but doesn’t want to sound like a dolt. Or someone sharing good news that a colleague has e-mailed in from the road. For many people, the office is akin to a village common. They care about the community, and they talk about its members—hopefully in a constructive or, better yet, a humorous way.
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