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
- 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.