Sitting in the airport on my way home from meeting with a client, I happened to be behind two people having a discussion. As we all know, seating in the airport leaves little room for private conversations, and the volume at which they were speaking left no room for discretion.
As I sat there waiting for our flights boarding to be called, I came to understand that the relationship between these two people was that of manager and employee. It also became clear that these two individuals were speaking rather heatedly about a someone at their place of business.
When our flight number was called, and everyone started to collect their belongings to get in line to board the plane, one of the individuals stated that, when they returned back to the office they would book a meeting to ‘deal with’ the colleague that was being discussed.
To my disbelief, I realized that the manager was gossiping about one of their employees, to another employee.
As the conversation continued in front of me in line I could not help but feel disappointed by the behaviour, for a few reasons.
The first reason I was disappointed by this manager, was because they were gossiping in general. Not only is gossip a negative habit, but one that can have damaging consequences. Reputations can be tarnished, trust broken, and individuals often do not want to work with people that can not keep their personal opinions to themselves.
The second reason I was disappointed was because the manager was stepping over the line with their direct report. Not only within the dynamic of the relationship built with this individual but with the relationships between the manager and the other employee, as well as the two colleagues themselves.
It is a leaders responsibility to ensure that negative behaviours, such as gossiping, are not tolerated, supported, and definitely not participated in. So how does a leader affect gossip?
They either Spread it or they Stop it.
When leaders find that individuals are gossiping between one another, or directly to the manager themselves, there are two choices. Either put a stop to it as it is happening, or participate in the conversation, allowing it to continue to spread.
Leaders set the tone and lead by example within a team. Participating in the the maintenance of a gossip chain is signalling to employees that it is acceptable.
Good leaders have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gossip, and will not hesitate to shut it down when they hear it. One general rule to follow is, if you wouldn’t say it in front of the person, then don’t say it in the first place.
The benefits of closing the gossip mill are twofold.
First, it prevents negative behaviours, perceptions, and commentary from becoming commonplace within a team or organization. This is beneficial for productivity, interpersonal communication and professional relationships, as well as the companies overall success.
Second, it demonstrates what acceptable behaviour within the workplace looks like, and can rise the trust-level of fellow employees. Trust which would otherwise be undermined if everyone was permitted to speak behind one-another’s back.
While it is definitely a good idea for leaders to adopt this stance, it is also a positive behaviour trait to strengthen on an individual level. So no matter the position, title, or role you play within an organization, it is a great idea to cut the gossip out right away.
Give it a try tomorrow and see how it affects your relationships for the better.