Gossip: Our Life’s Blood

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Dr. Conflict’s latest column is here and it deals with office gossip. I love the way that guy thinks.

My point of view on gossip has been redirected twice. The first time I swore off gossip myself as being troublemaking and a behavior that could only cause mistrust. I did the best I could with that.

Then a few years later I was working with an organization which was experiencing a lot of internal strife. Long story short, a number of individual interviews revealed that one staff person was “confidentially” telling each of the others that a third was talking them down. The whole organization became paranoid and jumpy—quick to take offense. It was a mess.

As I ended the interviews and was about to present my findings back to staff, the woman who had been causing the strife decided, without being asked or told about the findings, to leave.

I asked the remaining staff what they wanted to commit to in order to be sure that the same thing did not reoccur. For instance, did they want to agree with one another not to gossip?

The answer? A resounding, “NO!” They considered the gossip to be a part of what connected them to each other, but they did want to agree to stay away from maliciousness and so they drafted a “covenant” that was quite detailed to keep them in bounds.

I always think about those wonderful women when the issue of gossip in the workplace comes up. They wanted to talk about one another; it was part of who they were, but they also wanted to be sure that such talk would never be mean spirited.