In my current job one of my current goals, as part of a wider programme, is to eradicate gossip.
I have seen the results of gossip, I’ve found myself managing conflict due to gossip and I have been a victim myself.
I am aware that this is not going to happen overnight and I am also aware that there will be many small steps that will help achieve this goal, the first steps of which I have highlighted below.
It would be naive to say that an organisation/department/team will run smoothly everyday without conflict; I am realistic and believe that conflict is inevitable and should be managed in order to keep your team progressive and innovative.
You cannot go through your daily routine avoiding the difficult conversations to avoid conflict, it is important to deal with the issues your team faces head on. As a team leader your team will have more respect for you and you will also learn from the experience; each time you deal with difficult situations it gets easier.
Do not let issues roll on for a long time, this encourages gossip, will ultimately demotivate and could ultimately make your team miserable…’nip it in the bud’.
Dealing with gossip
Before getting into the steps I took the very first thing I did was write to the whole team by the way of a memo.
The memo gave them a brief indication of what to expect when arriving to the forum.
This will align expectations; minimising any fears and getting people engaged in subject thought.
At this stage I also assigned the team a few small ‘thinking’ tasks to get everyone engaged.
My meetings only last for 30 minutes because this is the only window of time I have to minimise the impact upon our customers, but it is enough time to discuss a subject (another reason for the memo; it will get some pre-work done before the meeting).
As the team leader, one thing that is paramount in every team meeting is that you include yourself as part of the team.
Do not refer to your team as ‘them’ or ‘you’; use words like ‘us’ and ‘we’.
Get your team together in one room
Explain to your team why you have arranged this forum.
Dothey agree that there is an issue with gossip and that something needs to be done about it?
Tip – Use a lot of questions throughout, encourage answers and try not to give out any information, ask them for it. (How, What, Where, Why & When)
Define ‘gossip’ specific to your workplace
Facilitate an open forum to first of all define and describe what gossip actually is. See if team members can pull from personal experience or give some specific examples.
This will ensure that all team members agree on what gossip is and therefore be able to identify it in their daily routine.
All team members should underst and and be working from the same definition.
Tip – Have some definitions prepared in order to facilitate discussion.
Ask questions based around them, for example, quote a definition and ask the team if they agree with it or not,
A good analogy from a writer called Don Michael Ruiz from the book “The Four Agreements”(p37-42)
“Gossiping has become the main form of communication in human society. It has become the way we feel close to each other, because it makes us feel better to see someone else feel as badly as we do.
Gossip can be compared to a computer virus; a computer virus is a piece of computer language written in the same language that all the other codes are written in, but with harmful intent.
After this code is introduced, your computer doesn’t work right, or it doesn’t function at all because the codes get mixed up with so many conflicting messages that it stops producing good results.”
- Rumour or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature
- A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumours or facts
- Make sure everyone agrees on the definition.
- Define your goals and aims from this discussion – what is it that you hope to achieve? Eradicate gossip?
- Identify those that think it cannot be achieved, find out what they are thinking and their reasoning and discuss this openly.
Tip – Look out for ‘nods’ and ‘shakes’ of heads. This will highlight acceptance…also folded arms or a defensive posture. Even if people aren’t saying much, if they are nodding their heads you can be confident that they are listening and agree with what is being said.
Agree on the techniques for stopping gossip
Discuss openly with the team, but have some of your own ideas in order to facilitate discussion. For example, if each individual has agreed to eradicate gossip, then each individual should be able to tell their colleague(s) that they do not want to engage in gossip and walk away from it. If everyone is doing this then the gossip culture will soon disappear.
Tip – One thing that you have to remember is that it all starts with the leader. You must be the example of ‘good behaviour’ and not be involved in gossip yourself.
It is important to monitor the progress of the team and publically reward those who behave in the way that
has been agreed. Unfortunately not everyone will learn at the same pace and you will have to privately reprim and those who are not behaving in the way that has been agreed.
Remember that the team agreed to these boundaries or rules, so you do not have to appear like the ‘bad guy’.
In most cases you will be able to remind those who are not working towards the goals about the agreements made and be very specific about what it is about their current behaviour that goes against the agreement.
Again, it is important to pick up on these issues early on so team members do no think it is acceptable to behave like that.
You have to be aware that there is a fine line between idle ‘chit chat’, gossip and bullying and it is important to recognise when things are getting serious. That is why it is really important to challenge issues early on.
Small issues build up and eventually become one big issue, which can result in conflict, bullying and upset team members.
The focus should be on having a highly focussed and responsive team who all respect each other.
In order to have a fully functioning team the team members need to be able to express their opinion and discuss topics openly.
The next step is to figure out how the team members are going to work without gossip.
and have the ability to express their opinion without causing offence or taking things personally.
There is danger that the team may think that they are not able to talk without the risk of getting into trouble for ‘gossiping’ or personally attacking people.
Managing gossip is one step towards strong communication, and it must be addressed, however there are several topics that the team must discuss. For example, not taking things personally, which will be covered in future posts.
I hope that you have found something interesting here that will help you with your own team development.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading,