I’ve been in situations where it feels like I have to gossip about somebody in order to feel like I fit in. Sometimes we’re just surrounded by negative people, whose default conversation is one that tears others down. I will admit that I’ve succumbed to that temptation. I’ve been in positions where I want to be liked so desperately that I will ignore my values to make a quick quip about someone else. Not just a few times, but actually pretty frequently. It’s a fight that starts fresh every day, even if I succeeded the day before.
So this week I want to focus on why gossiping is so detrimental to our professional environment. I’ll be the first to say that even if I’ve learned these lessons once, it’s always very helpful to have a reminder.
You’re hurting others
Talking negatively about other people hurts them, even when they’re not present.
It’s likely that you’re talking about a person to someone else who has to interact with them, as well. Whenever you talk badly about a person, you’re tarnishing their image. People will remember what you said about the person, and this will affect the way they think about and interact with them.
People who are the consistent subject of negative gossip may find themselves fighting an uphill fight trying to be respected. And even if you’re mean, like me, and think “They’re a jerk sometimes. They deserve it.” Then I’m going to tell you the same thing that I need to hear every now and again: They are as valuable as you are. They deserve to at least be present to defend themselves while their name is being dragged through the mud, just as you do.
It has been my experience that more often than not, people find out about the hurtful things others say about them. Whether you’ve got a double-agent in your office who can’t be trusted to keep what you say private, or if someone overhears what you’ve said and they blab it to everybody, word gets out.
When this happens, people get hurt. I have a feeling that most of the people reading this can say that they’ve experienced what it feels like to be hurt by the words of others. It feels like being betrayed, and the pain lasts for a long time. After you’ve learned that people have been talking about you, it’s hard to know who’s really in your corner.
You’re hurting yourself
Every time you negatively talk about someone behind their back, you’re not only recreating their image in the minds of others, you’re also modifying your own.
I remember a time in my life when I was in the habit of talking badly about people behind their backs. I could find something to dislike about every one of my friends. One morning, I was in the car, spewing some toxic hatred to a close friend about one of our mutual friends. The friend I was talking to stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Why do you always have to gossip about other people? Is this all you do? How do I know that you’re not saying this same exact stuff behind my back?”
Whenever we reveal people’s secrets or talk about them negatively to others, we are painting a picture of ourselves. We are showing that we can’t be trusted to respect anyone’s feelings or secrets. The people around us don’t know that we won’t smear their names in the mud, just as we did the names of our other victims.
Not only are are we making ourselves look untrustworthy, we’re also making ourselves look negative. Have you ever encountered people who will find something to dislike about somebody, no matter how great that person may be? It’s really difficult to have a good time around negative people, but it’s especially challenging when you’re wondering which of your flaws they will complain about later to their friends.
No room for Gossip
If we’re striving for healthy, happy, comfortable cultures that allow everyone to feel safe, there’s absolutely no room for gossip. There are companies that incorporate “No gossip” rules into their core values. I had the opportunity to talk to the Director of Culture for one of these companies once. “How do you uphold that core value? I mean, it’s a wonderful goal, but how do you enforce it?” I asked.
“If we find out that people are gossiping, we give them a warning and tell them there will be consequences if they continue to do it.” he said. “Then, if they keep gossiping, we fire them.”
Dang. Some people may think that this is a super harsh punishment for a something that has become so commonplace in a work environment. But I absolutely do not. What better way to weed out unhealthy practices than to literally pluck the offender out of your culture permanently? In all of my studies of leadership, one phrase sticks out to me: Good leaders fire fast and hire slow.
Take a firm stance against something you disagree with: don’t allow insidious practices like gossip to sneak into your workplace. Rise above the norm and be better than average.