In the Old West, the ultimate insult to any man was to call him a coward. Being “yellow” meant you were less than a man and you didn’t have the guts to do the right thing. One of the most infamous cowards of the American old west is Robert Ford, known as “The Coward Who Shot Jesse James.”
Some believe gossips are modern day cowards. Gossipers typically don’t have the courage to confront their fears or to have conversations directly with the person of concern. But it’s not just the person gossiping who is “skeered.” Unfortunately, sometimes, so is the leader.
Leaders, Stop The Gossip
Remember, office gossip, especially the insidious and destructive kind, comes from fear and anxiety over the unknown, the misunderstandings and confusion that can happen from constant change and the lack of communication from leadership when changes occur. When business leaders decide to make significant changes they tend to withhold information and often are not being transparent or openly communicative with their employees. Yes, sometimes information is confidential. And yet, this just fuels the fire for employees to talk and to make assumptions about what is happening. It is imperative that leaders thoughtfully create a communication strategy that includes:
- All modes of communication – email, face to face, telephonic, “Town Hall” meetings, facilitated meetings
- A communication schedule that regularly informs employees the details of the change/transition
Leaders, here are some tough questions: What do you do that enables office gossip? What behavior are you modeling? What expectations have you set regarding gossip in your organization?
- Leaders need to model openness, avoid defensiveness and answer questions honestly when asked.
- Have you considered implementing a gossip policy? These policies can be difficult to enforce. But there is a company, led by Dave Ramsey (nationally syndicated financial advisor and advocate of debt-free living) who has successfully implemented a no-gossip policy. Read about it here, here and here.
- Are you equipping your employees to say “no” to gossip? Teach them to use phrases such as “I’m not comfortable listening to this.” “Have you talked to ______ about it?” “Maybe we should wait and see what management tells us.”
The next time you hear the rumor mill, you have a decision to make. Will you choose not to participate? Do you have the courage to approach the gossiper with respect and without blame? Will you tell the gossiper how the behavior impacted you and your workplace?
Will you be a Robert Ford or a Wyatt Earp?
© 2009 Patricia M. Porter, The Texas Conflict Coach™