How Gossip Hurts Your Team
If you lead a team or group, you understand that there are fine lines between team members' sharing, venting and gossiping. But if we are honest, we can tell when the subject turns to gossip and unsubstantiated rumors and personal opinions. It only takes a few seconds to cross those fine lines and suddenly you find conversations descending into destructive territory.
Gossip is hurtful, divisive and builds walls between people both on and off your team. If not handled appropriately, it can diminish productivity and waylay the focus needed for accomplishing important tasks.
The perception that someone is spreading stories or hearsay doesn’t set well with many of us. Likely individuals in your group feel uncomfortable with people who openly gossip and they simply don’t know how to respond or are too shy to call the offending person out.
Naturally, people look to the leader to handle these types of unpleasant situations. So unless you, as the leader, can nip the scuttlebutt in the bud, you begin a treacherous slide down a slippery slope.
When you are leading a team discussion and someone begins gossiping, here are some suggestions to help nix the offending gossip:
First off recognize when inappropriate comments are made, in other words, pay attention. It is your responsibility to not perpetuate nor participate in the gossip. It’s bad, bad, bad for a leader to engage in that practice for nothing good can come from it. Despite the temptation to just smile and nod, that response reaffirms what the person is gossiping about. Don’t just ignore their comments, instead act swiftly to redirect.
Find a way to redirect the talker in order to return to the relevant information at hand. For example, “Let’s stay focused on XYZ,” or ask a specific question that leaves out the personal commentary. Another idea is to ask questions that distinguish what is relevant fact or an assumed opinion. Keep redirecting as necessary.
Follow up as soon as possible after your meeting with a private conversation with the person.
The individual may claim they didn’t even know they were gossiping or they did but may justify it by stating what they shared was intended to be beneficial even if unfounded.
Regardless of their response to you, address your concern in a non-threatening way. Describe how it’s your responsibility to keep everyone on topic during the limited period of time you have for meetings. It can be easy to get sidetracked with details about others that really aren’t relevant to the current conversation. You may need to give them a specific example of when they were describing “XYZ” and suggest how they might have remained on-topic without the additional commentary that some folks may consider as gossip.
The person likely will apologize. Acknowledge that, thank them and let them know you are there to help them and everyone else on the team participate in and have the most positive experience possible.
Continue to Address
If the person takes offense or they continue to gossip, you must be steadfast with your redirection during subsequent meetings and speaking with them afterwards. If they just cannot seem to stop with the grapevine talk, you may seriously consider having them leave your team or not accept them next time around.
Even though you may mitigate inappropriate comments within the meetings you lead, you can only attempt to discourage such conversations from happening outside your meetings. Assist those individuals that have gossipy tendencies to understand how such talk deflates trust and can wreak all kinds of havoc and promote negativity.
With so many critical responsibilities for team and group leaders, whether leading volunteers or paid staff, gossip is one to be handled appropriately and expeditiously. As a leader, once you establish that injurious words are not welcomed in your meetings, you will be one step closer to being a mindful and respected leader.
Additional help for dealing with gossip and other disruptive actions by team members can be found in the self-paced, online course Elected Leader, Now What? Watch a short video, review other free content and arm yourself with tools and strategies for becoming a more effective leader, today!
About the Author
Diane M. Dresback’s passion is seeing people succeed at things they never thought they could do; and for storytelling, both in book and film mediums. After 26 years of human resources and training management in the travel and financial industries, she engaged more of her “creative-side.” Diane’s written fiction, non-fiction, and an online course. She’s written, directed and produced several short films winning numerous awards with one screenplay leading to a feature film called Atrophy. Diane received the 2012 Arizona Filmmaker of the Year Award and holds a Masters in Adult Education and a Bachelors in Human Services.
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