When we ask people about gossip, they almost universally agree that it’s harmful and that they should stop but admit they aren’t confident knowing what to do about it.
Gossip is any activity in which people try to get others to justify or support them in avoiding healthy conflict.
Here are common situations when gossip happens.
▪ People aren’t honest about their feelings and ideas during a meeting but spend time complaining to others after the meeting.
▪ People seek sympathetic ears to support their negative feelings or beliefs about someone but don’t deal directly with the problem.
▪ People use social media to recruit others to their camp.
And this is how gossip damages relationships and companies.
▪ Energy is wasted in self-justification instead of problem-solving.
▪ Necessary, healthy conflict is avoided, so opportunity is lost.
▪ Resentment builds up over time, leading to broken relationships.
▪ Productivity and innovation suffer.
▪ The workplace becomes increasingly toxic.
Gossip reveals real frustrations around not getting what we want: respect, opportunity, dignity, etc. The problem isn’t that we have difficult and negative feelings, it’s how we act on these feelings that makes all the difference.
Gossip is drama, meaning it involves the misuse of conflict toward destructive behaviors rather than constructive ones.
If you’d like to stop participating in gossip and invite those around you to do the same, here’s a simple application of our Formula for Compassionate Conflict you can follow to help you know what to say.
Use it on yourself to stay clear of gossip, or use it on others to stop gossip. Compassionate Conflict involves a series of statements that are Open, Resourceful, Persistent and Open.
Open: Identify and share your feelings about gossiping. Alternatively, empathize with the uncomfortable feelings in the other person without endorsing their behaviors.
Resourceful: Offer to be a resource for healthy problem-solving without expecting the person to change and without giving them unsolicited advice.
Persistent: Reinforce your boundaries around what you will and won’t do. Avoid ultimatums or threats.
Open: Show you care, show transparency and demonstrate that you aren’t here to judge the other person.
Here are some examples of corrective self-statements that help get you back on track and avoid gossip.
▪ “I am frustrated because I can’t get anyone to pay attention to my proposal at staff meeting. I will talk to several of the main influencers before the meeting and ask them for suggestions.”
▪ “I feel angry because Debbie didn’t include me in an e-mail and I wonder if they are talking about me behind my back. I can check with Debbie about it before jumping to conclusions. I am committed to open, transparent relationships and will do my part to model that.”
When faced with gossip from another person, it is often difficult to know what to say in the moment. Here are some examples you can try.
▪ “I am uncomfortable hearing you complain about Debbie when she isn’t here. I’m willing to help you problem-solve your situation with her if you want. I’m not willing to talk about her behind her back. I care about both of you.”
▪ “I understand how hard it is to not have your feelings heard. I am here for you if you want to explore solutions to get what you want. My boundary is to help in ways that keeps everybody in the loop.”
The Formula for Compassionate Conflict is a powerful template to engage in healthy conflict while preserving the dignity of all involved.
Nate Regier is CEO and co-founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a global advisory firm specializing in leadership communication. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in writing for “Business Perspectives”? Contact Tom Shine at email@example.com or 316-268-6268.