Hush! How To Get Your Boss To Quit Negative Gossip
Office gossip can be amusing or informative. Office gossip can also be fatal to your career. When it’s your boss doing all the secret leaking, it can be toxic to the workplace.
I know enough from decades of working in office cultures from small to medium to enormous that if you have a manager or leader of your organization who slips you secrets on the sly about other coworkers, clients, customers, competitors or colleagues, she is likely also spreading rumors about you.
The best you can do is stay clean and above the fray. Do not repeat any gossip yourself and definitely do not divulge any reason to be the center of a juicy gossip rant. You can also do your best to have the gossip buck stop with you.
“If gossip has not been managed in the past, gossip tends to become a negative aspect of your work culture,” writes Susan M. Heathfield, management and organization development consultant who specializes in human resources issues, in The Balance.
“If employees are talking about other employees in a negative manner, it can have serious consequences. Frequently, in a toxic gossip culture, there is a small group of employees who cause the problems,” Heathfield writes.
New research from professors in Turkey on responses from 310 employees at a university hospital recently published in the Journal of Health Management show that supervisor gossip has a deleterious and negative effect on workers. And it can be changed.
“To improve the quality of the supervisor-subordinate relationship, supervisors should adopt a positive informal communication style, and organizations should provide supervisors with information regarding the implications of workplace gossip, illustrating the substantial benefits of positive gossip and the potential drawbacks of negative gossip,” the authors conclude.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of Kentucky similarly concluded in a recent study in the 2017 edition of Journal of Applied Psychology that workplace gossip can go either way—positive when talking about upcoming promotions or kudos, personal successes or achievements—but negative when it is malicious about personal failures or transgressions, untrue allegations or false accusations.
Office gossip can be informative when accurate information serves as a warning about dangerous behavior such as sexual harassment, illegal acts or unethical breaches in the workplace. These can be warnings you need to heed. This kind of information can protect and prepare you.
“Gossip about which men are dangerous, which men you shouldn’t go out to lunch alone with – that sort of information is currency that women use to protect one another,” author Anne Helen Peterson of Buzzfeed tells NPR.
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, advises in her 9 Leadership Power Tools, that you can enlist Tool # 7 in order to create a counter-movement against negative gossip. “Take Action; Create a Movement,” Feldt says, comes about because, “Things don’t just happen. People make them happen in a systematic way. And you can change systems. Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life.”
If your vision is to have a workplace culture that is supportive and positive, minus negative, salacious gossip, then you can create that. Informal communication that is not aimed at hurting someone can be useful.
Preemptive gossip about a possible sale of the company, reorganizations, hirings, firings, new projects or other yet to be released intel can also help not hurt you. In my experience, the majority of this kind of scuttlebutt turns out to be true.
So you may have a head start on cultural changes in direction that can affect you.
The negative kind of gossip you need to stop from your boss is the vicious brand of personal attack that has no relevance or application to your work. You have the power to object to the negativity. Here’s how you put the brakes on boss talk that goes awry.
Say you feel uncomfortable and prefer not to listen to it. “This response, delivered with a goodnatured smile, is a foolproof way of stopping a mean-spirited person in his or her tracks,” according to The Muse.
Model zero tolerance for gossip. “Employees will look to you for what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, and you need to ensure you are ‘walking the talk’ at all times and leading by example,” writes Lisa Quast, career coach and author in Forbes.
Solve the problem. “When someone talks negatively about a co-worker, it’s often out of frustration, but there’s also a good chance the gossiper has a legitimate issue. If that’s the case, your best move is to acknowledge your colleague’s frustration, and then help create a solution,” Daniel Bortz writes in Monster.
Keep it to yourself. “Unless you have absolute certainty that you can trust a coworker, the rule of thumb is plain and simple: Don’t trust personal information with anyone at work that will be fodder for gossip,” writes Marcel Schwantes, principal and founder of Leadership From The Core, in Inc.
When gossip is sinister and the person creating the cauldron of ill will happens to be your boss, the best you can do is try these techniques and rise above the mess. The gossip may simmer down, and if not, it might be time to find a workplace culture where there is no trash talk allowed.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com