Handling the grapevine

people gossipWe live in a culture of gossip, be it within the family, neighbourhood or on the job. Somehow the grapevine or gossip fuels our sense of curiosity and in fact is taken as a form of entertainment. Hearing some news about someone else, or spreading some exciting information can raise our interest. It may even go to the extent of just discussing a new employee or team member who m you may perceive to be a threat to yourself.

The grapevine arises from social interactions and communications, so it can be mischievous, dynamic and as diverse as the employees in the group. Further in any workplace where a group of employees interact and work with each other day in day out, having a grapevine or gossiping is inevitable. The employees are competing with each other to gain recognition in terms of performance, promotions or other awards and many a times this tends to spark jealousy. If left unchecked, a grapevine can inflict a lot of damage.

The word “gossip” brings a negative connotation with it. But gossip doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing.  If good actions, behavior or any good deed comes on the grapevine for discussion it could be very positive as well. Organizations generally want to create an environment where employees can be open and express themselves freely. However there are limits which should not be crossed – as gossip is entertaining until it focuses on someone, indeed the victim of the gossip.

Pros :

  • Whether workplace gossip is negative or positive look at it from the perspective that it is providing insight on how other employees are thinking and feeling. If by any chance it is focusing on yourself it should give you food for thought and based on whatever is being communicated, you have the opportunity to modify your behavior accordingly.
  • Gossip can sometimes be very entertaining and in a work environment where stress levels and pressures are high provide some moments of relief to employees. It can help lighten the mood which may lead to increase in productivity and a sense of well being.
  • The grapevine is an informal tool of communication in the workplace which helps to keep information flowing. Employees like talking about what interests them on a personal level, work related and also hobbies, politics etc. So positive communication contributes to an open environment in the organization.
  • Very important is also the fact that informal discussions about work related matters over a cup of tea or walking together for lunch may present opportunities to increase inter departmental contacts preventing a silo culture forming in the organization. It also presents the opportunity for informal idea generation which is beneficial for the future.

Cons :

  • Unfortunately negative gossip can create a very wrong picture of an employee. Based on a distorted perception of the gossip monger, it may help create a barrier and make others not want to work with them. It could contribute to creating confusion and miscommunication sometimes even going to the extent that the targeted employee may resign and leave the organization.
  • Workplace gossip may lead to hurt feelings within the team which can hamper productivity. It can also have a negative impact on employee morale, work performance and team building. Further it can infringe upon the privacy of others which may lead to reaction and stir up unnecessary controversy creating a bad work environment.
  • Employees do not like to get to know about future developments which may take place in their company from the market. This could lead to rumour mongering and create a sense of uncertainty depending on the news. All such news should come from within. Company heads should develop a practice of direct communication with employees, to keep them informed at all times. If not, it could lead to serious actions and consequences from those who maybe impacted by the news 

CONTAINING NEGATIVE GOSSIP

Engage in positive communication:  The organization can play a role by circulating news of achievements, recognizing good work etc. while employees can share good news about colleagues which is a good way to move things in a positive direction. They can also praise good team work mentioning how much they may like working with other team members. All this creates a positive working environment and positivity can be contagious and beneficial to employees as well as the organization.

Stand up against office gossip: The best way to try to stop negative gossip is by directly speaking to the instigator and requesting that they cease spreading any misinformation about you. If you have tried to do that in a firm but friendly manner and are unsuccessful as the gossip doesn’t stop, it would be best to take up the matter with your manager and/or HR. They are there to support you and to take any required corrective actions even to the extent of disciplinary action against the offender.

Recognize the culture: Whatever gossip is being spread within the work place reveal a lot about the culture of the work group. Gossip can also point the direction towards what is or is not acceptable in the workplace. It can help to maintain a group’s norms and values by circulating comments about any group members who are deviating from the accepted norms helping to prevent such deviations.

THE BOTTOM LINE > There is no place for negative gossip in a healthy workplace as it will only lead to a lot of controversy, hurt and suffering for the concerned person.

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
― Henry Thomas Buckle

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4 thoughts on “Handling the grapevine

  1. Great post. I was reading a book on neuroscience for coaches this week, and in one section it talks about the effects of laughter on parts of the brain that deal with managing stress. Gossip, in the most part, is well intentioned and can lead to humorous exchanges between colleagues. It is a fundamental part of our social well being, and, as the article above states, is also part of our learning process for understanding social norms and parameters. The trick is building a feedback culture so that unfair or judgemental gossip can be dealt with effectively.

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  2. Leaders have to lead with a positive example for others to follow…avoid negative gossips, beating around the bush, resorting to acts like inquiring to find faults and judging falsely because of negative thinking..
    No matter who you are, how experienced you are and how knowledgeable you think you are, always delay your judgment. Give others the privilege to explain themselves. What you see may not be the reality..!!

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