Toxic Work Environment: The number one stopper for effective teaming

Gossip is the number one killer of Trust of Communication in teams.

Ninety percent of behaviors that break trust and lead to toxic work environments are small, subtle, and unintentional. Most often, we don’t mean to break each other’s trust, but we all do. One of the most common ways this happens in the workplace is through gossip.

Working with teams worldwide, team  trust assessment results have found that they all share a propensity to gossip.  This is a global phenomena.

When gossip is active team members report that it hurts workplace communication, their ability to work well as a team, to collaborate and to trust in one another.

There are a variety of reasons why people struggle with gossip in the workplace:

Lack of information

  • Hurt feelings
  • Retaliation
  • Unsolicited feedback
  • Trying to fit in
  • They don’t feel safe to talk openly
  • Envious of others
  • Dismissive behavior

As the behaviors continue, mounting unaddressed issues get funneled into the grapevine and are turned into major conflicts later, resulting in things such as damaged reputations, loss of opportunities, the spread of misinformation, and a general distrust among team members. Morale tanks and people stop working with and engaging other members of the team. This leads to workplace communication being hindered and to an overall toxic work environment.

Gossip Seems ‘Safe’ Yet

Creates A Toxic Work Environment

Most people will say they rarely gossip. Yet, in our experience, when we start discussing what gossip is and how it contributes to a toxic work environment, people often realize just how often they participate.

Part of the problem is that gossiping seems to be a “safer” behavior. It allows you to surface an issue or frustration without the fears of confrontation. In fact, gossiping is a part of the pattern that contributed to toxic work environments. When people gossip, it contributes to a feeling of being connected to those with whom they share information. This is especially true when someone is struggling, and feels the need for affiliation or validation.

Unfortunately, this can have the opposite impact by leading to distrust, fear, and breakdowns in individual relationships as well as in overall workplace communication. Simple venting readily can quickly become trust-breaking gossip and it creates feelings of betrayal and distrust throughout a team. Once those feelings are present they don’t go away until they are addressed and some rebuilding of trust is supported to take place. When trust rebuilding doesn’t happen a permanent toxic work environment is likely to take over.

When you talk about your concerns with others rather than with the person with whom you have an issue, talk behind people’s backs, or relay information you’ve heard about the company without verifying it with a boss, you are fueling the rumor mill and contributing to a toxic work environment where agitation and speculation steal focus from where it belongs – on relationships and on the work itself.

Exploring Gossip in Toxic Work Environments

In order to explore the impacts of gossip on workplace communication and its contribution to toxic work environments (even when unintentional), give some thought to the following questions:

What is the impact of gossip on the person being gossiped about?

When people think about the effect gossip has on an individual, they often think about how gossip:

  • Taints or ruins a reputation
  • Hurts feelings
  • Causes individuals to shut down or isolate from others
  • Decreases willingness to collaborate and provide input
  • Adds to anxiety, skepticism, paranoia, suspicion
  • Leads to low engagement, energy and productivity
  • Has you looking over your shoulder

What is the impact of the gossip on others – the team, organization, and workplace culture?

When teams begin to reflect on how the team unit and the organization are impacted by gossip, they often identify that this behavior:

  • Hinders workplace communication between teams and departments
  • Creates anxiety and mistrust
  • Causes distraction
  • Reduces productivity
  • Creates an insider-outsider dynamic
  • Stagnates creativity
  • Brings down morale
  • Creates divisiveness
  • Fosters disengagement

What is the impact of gossip on the Gossiper?

As with all things, we must also look at the person who is gossiping. We often hear that the “gossiper” is:

  • Not being true to self
  • Demonstrating a lack of integrity
  • Breaking others’ trust and altering their reputation in the minds of others
  • Creating disruption and distraction

When you engage in gossip, you not only lose the trust of the individual you’re talking about, but your behavior is noted by others.

Remember, trust is reciprocal. You have to give it to get it. By not engaging in gossip and, instead, directly engaging those with whom you have issues, you will help improve workplace communication, build team morale, and increase personal relationships. This all leads to increased business performance.

Business photo created by katemangostar – www.freepik.com

3 Benefits of Allowing Other People to Make Decisions

Trust of Capability

Handing over the reins.

Letting people work autonomously.

Encouraging others to voice their opinions, call the shots, and make the decisions. These are all easier said than done, right? Especially when the margins are slim and the competition so fierce.

And now, with the uncertainty that has taken the world hostage the stakes are even higher. But, trusting in the capability of your team, your staff, and those your work with is the only way to successfully navigate the uncertainty.

If you’re one of the many leaders that struggles to let others run with your vision, and have the final say, you are not alone.

We say that there is another way, a better way, and that is through Trust Building – and more specifically, through building Trust of Capability.

As you build Trust of Capability you will experience three significant benefits:


1. People stop waiting on you to tell them what to do.

People who hold on to every detail become the bottleneck. They become the leaders that hold up everything. Issues big and small accumulate instead of being dealt with. See, small decisions can be made by your direct reports. Small issues could be addressed and managed by other people on your team. That would leave you open for handling the tougher problems.

But when you have to touch everything, decide everything, everything piles up on your desk – blurring the line between what’s urgent and what’s not.

Meanwhile, people wait. Not just on the issues they put in front of you, but on the other decisions they can’t make until those issues are resolved.

You have the ability to liberate the workflow and release people from their holding patterns. Extend trust that they’re able to do the jobs they’ve been handpicked to do. Trust in their experience and expertise. You will feel much better for it, progress will speed up, and you will take a large step towards improving your leadership effectiveness.

As you improve this behavior, you will notice that your work load will get lighter. Your staff, reports, and coworkers won’t bother you with as many problems, and you will be able to tackle the issues that are fit your unique skill set.


risk-management-dial-trust0in-capability2. People will start taking appropriate risks.

No team, in any industry, in any part of the world, can survive through a cookie cutter approach to anything.

Everything – every idea, process, and product – must continuously evolve as a customized solution to a current, nuanced need for your specific customer base, audience, or market.

Customization can’t happen without innovation.

Innovation can’t happen without appropriate risk taking.

And risk taking can’t happen if people don’t feel trusted to direct their own work.

Effective leadership means that you help people feel safe to stick out their necks. Let them known they’re trusted to take the ball and run with it.

There will be mistakes. They should be addressed, discussed, and then a new approach taken. But as the leader, you must not take the initiative away from the person that made the mistake. Support them to complete the job, show them you trust their instincts, experience, and talents.

Pretty soon, you will have a team that is willing to take appropriate risks to the benefit of your initiatives and goals. And, they will do so without having to get your approval every step of the way. This is how successful teams run, and it is how they excel.


3. People will take greater responsibility for addressing the impacts of their mistakes.

Mistakes will happen…

Let me say that again – They Will Happen…

But, when people feel trusted to move their own work forward, a beautiful thing occurs. Those same people feel responsible for cleaning up their own mistakes.

Think about it.

team-capability-and-trust-in-capability-brings success-graphWhich would kick you in to crisis management mode faster: A messy situation someone else created, or a messy situation you created?

Most people feel more driven to address and remedy mistakes that are 100% theirs. They feel pride in their success and their crisis management. No one wants to fail, and so when they can own a project they will turn ‘failures’ into success whenever possible.


Effective leadership goes hand in hand with employee engagement. By allowing others to make decisions in their work, exercise their expertise, and by allowing them autonomy to do the job that they were hired to do, your team’s engagement levels will vastly increase. You’ll see productivity and innovation grow. And the trust between you and the people you work with will grow, creating a stronger unit that makes this progress the norm, not the exception.


Help People Learn Skills: Build Trust at Work, Part 3

Did you watch the Olympiad rowing races? We were just talking with a client whose son was at one time an Olympic rowing hopeful.

When he competed at the national level, he had to earn his spot on the team not by how well he performed, but by how well the crew performed when he was a part of it.

Olympic rowing crews have eight athletes who’re nearly identical. Raw skill, talent, physical strength – there’s not much difference among them.

The competitions are 1.24 miles. The margin by which those races are won or lost?

2 inches.

What do you suppose allows the winning boat to pull ahead?

Rhythm. Chemistry. Teamwork.

Technical skill? Tenacity? Strength? Not enough. Olympic rowers make the cut by tuning in to how their individual efforts contribute to – or get in the way of – the team’s objective. By being empathetic.

By caring more about the boat than themselves.

Does this sound like your team? Or is your team not that in sync – yet?

Your team can develop this level – a world class level – of teamwork. Working with other people fluidly, collaboratively, trustingly is a skill. An acquirable skill. A skill you can lead the people in your team to acquire – through working this week’s Trust Tip:

Build Trust of Capability: Help People Learn Skills

Helping people learn new skills is a behavior that builds Trust of Capability. You can use this Tip to support people to develop a range of new skills. In my experience, the skill people need the most support to master is building and sustaining high trust, highly collaborative relationships that produce results.

This Tip will help you take a step to master that skill…and help others take a step to master it, as well.

If you’re already signed up for Reina’s newsletter, this Tip will be delivered straight to your inbox. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

You’ll not only get this Tip, but also get on the list to regularly get fresh, research-backed tips and tools to help you and the people in your team work together more effectively.

Yours in trust,

Dennis Reina, PhD