Friday, February 12, 2010

Gossip, Innuendo, Junior High Behavior...We Love Work!

Dear Mrs. Ditter, How do you deal with gossip at work? Recently, I had to tell someone that I didn't like her behavior--she was actually polling people about what someone else had said! She responded that the other person had lied to her repeatedly and she was just trying to get the facts. 
I have a little influence here, but not the power to hire and fire. I don't want to get involved, but I can't stand this sort of junior high behavior.--Disgusted
Okay, first of all, you already ARE involved. You got involved by calling this person on her behavior. Also, check your language: "I had to tell someone that I didn't like her behavior--" No, you didn't have to. You chose to. Ugh, sorry if that sounds kind of harsh. 
Also again: Do you know if the person being gossiped about actually HAD lied to the person doing the gossiping? 
Is it possible that "junior high behavior" is being engaged in by both parties?
And now we get to the real crux of the matter: What can you do about it? Which means you first need to answer another question: SHOULD you do anything about it? If you choose to get involved in this situation, be really clear about your reasons why. Does it touch something in your past that you need to take care of? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction when people act like jerks? Do you dream of ridding the world of obnoxious people, one office at a time? 
When you're clear about your reason for getting more involved, and if it still seems appropriate to move forward, you need to figure out how. If this person reports to you, then by all means bring up your concerns with her if a similar situation takes place. 
If she doesn't report to you, I'm not sure what you can do. You say you have "a little influence" in the work setting--what does that mean? Does it mean you can talk to the gossiping person's supervisor? Does it mean that you can call a staff meeting and gently introduce concerns about workplace gossip and the harm it can do?
Or does it just mean that you can lead by example?
I wish I had a full-blown answer here, but I've puzzled over this situation for several days and nothing seems clear.
Then again, I've quit more jobs than any five people combined, so my workplace skills are obviously not razor-sharp.
Gut feeling? I'd keep my mouth shut for now but start looking for a program on workplace gossip. Or do a half-day program introducing The Work to your staff. Or maybe hire a facilitator of Non-Violent Communication to do a short training for your office. Let me know how it goes.
PS--Just found this book recommended in a book I'm reading (The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin): The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Haven't read the book, so I can't recommend it, but it might be worth a look.
Questions? Comments? Leave them in the Comments box, below. And as always, thanks for reading.

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