Gossiping can spread like the plague. It’s starts with a few workmates chit-chatting about something half true about a manager, boss or a colleague and it spreads like wildfire around the office. Though these situations cannot always be avoided, there are certain times where you, as a team leader, need to take action.
If gossip is hurting someone else’s feelings, reducing overall motivation or creating a tense environment at the workspace it’s important to speak up. The following tips may help you manage gossip at work.
Don’t give gossip space to grow (and, of course, don’t participate in it). If your team feels comfortable around you, they’ll probably speak their mind before meetings, during lunch or at coffee break. If, during those interactions, you sense that a rumour about someone is spreading around, change topics and show that you don’t get involved in these conversations. By doing this, you’ll make clear that gossip is not something you are interested in and has no place inside your team conversations. Hopefully, this will stop the gossip from spreading.
Make sure your team members know they can count on you. During your first individual meeting when a new person joins your team, highlight the importance of them coming to you when they need support or something is not going well. If you start hearing gossip around the office reinforce this idea during your group meetings as well, so if someone is feeling uncomfortable with the rumours, they are reminded they can come to you. If you know who the gossip is about, you can also let them know in private that they can ask for help if they feel uncomfortable or uneasy with their work environment.
Don’t look the other way. If you’ve realised there’s harmful gossip going around and this is interfering with work, schedule individual meetings with the people involved (or the whole team if you don’t know who’s behind it). Reinforce the vision of the psychologically safe environment that you are trying to create in the team and explain how gossip affects this. Make it clear that you do not accept this sort of behaviour in the team. Although it’s preferable to try to solve issues with your team members internally, if the gossiping is about something really offensive or personal make sure you let HR know and let them step in.
Encourage a healthy team behaviour. Be clear about what you want from your team. In competitive environments, gossiping can be seen as a means to an end, such as getting a raise or a higher position inside the team or the company. However, if you are responsible for deciding who gets these benefits, make it clear to everyone which values (collaboration, respect, trust, etc) you hold dear for the team and the company, alongside hard work. By doing this, you will avoid inadvertently encouraging negative behaviours among your team.
Transparency is key. Sometimes, not letting others know about what’s going on inside the team or the company can blow things out of proportion due to speculation. That’s why it’s a good idea to communicate as soon as feasible to your team what’s happening in the company and the team. By doing this you will avoid gossip and speculation, maintaining a psychologically safe and healthy work environment. For example, panic may rise if your boss fires someone apparently out of the blue. Talk to your team about it, explain the reasons if you can, or state that this was an isolated incident. Let them ask questions and answer as truthfully as you can. Through these actions, you may help ensure that your team members are understanding of the situation instead of judgemental or panicked.
Don’t take gossip to heart. When you are the target of gossip it’s hard not to take it personally. Being a team leader means you are in the spotlight and when something negative happens you may be blamed for it (even if it’s not your fault). Instead of tackling it from an emotional state of anger and hurt, let yourself cool off first. Then try to find out the reason why that gossiping may have started in the first place, and if there is any grain of truth in it. Could it be caused by someone feeling treated unjustly, for instance? By doing this you’ll find out if you need to take action or responsibility or, simply, ignore it.
Have you ever faced a situation where gossiping damaged your work environment? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments or on FB!