Contributed by Beate Chelette
What would you guess is the amount of time most of us spend gossiping? Thirty percent? Not even close. Research studies report that in everyday conversations, gossiping takes up 65 to 80 percent (!) of speaking time.
And 15 percent of work email is gossip, according to a new Georgia Tech study that examined emails from the former Enron Corporation. The average corporate email user sends 112 emails every day, and one in seven of those messages can be called gossip. What’s more, gossip is prevalent at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, though lower levels gossip the most, says the study.
As a consultant and career coach, I’ve been in numerous workplace situations where gossip is the norm and it creates such a toxic environment. I can’t stand it. It has been my goal—more like a mission, really—to change that by providing a new leadership model for women in business called The Women’s Code.
Our culture seems to thrive on knowing personal details of celebrities, and other famous people, our colleagues, even our friends, especially when it’s dirt. At work, people chitchat and pass on rumors about their bosses and colleagues, and on it goes.
Gossip’s Good Side
Why do we do it? Let’s start with the upside of gossiping. Yes, there is one. We learn from it. We get important information this way. It helps us figure out how to compete more effectively and it improves our performance because, naturally, we compare ourselves with the person being gossiped about. We learn what is acceptable, what is respected and the type of behavior and work performance that is rewarded—and reprimanded.
Researchers have found that gossip plays a role as a safety valve by providing a means for stress relief and emotional support an it sometimes leads to close friendships among employees.
Most of the time, though, let’s be honest, gossip is negative. Simply, this is talk that discredits someone who isn’t present. Some organizations link gossip to decreased productivity, sagging morale, hurt feelings and reputations, and the turnover of valued employees. Plus, it’s a waste of time.
Do you spread gossip?
If you are serious about your career and business, and you want to succeed as a leader, not a divider, you cannot ethically advance by buying into, and participating, in negative gossip. This is not the behavior of an enlightened individual or business executive. And as women, let’s face it, we do engage in office gossip and we love to talk. As long as you do that, you will continue to mix the issues of work and personal likes and dislikes.
Who cares if you like her or him – or not? You are there to work and need to treat it like that. Work relationships should be based on respect and collaboration, not personal likes. Sometimes friendships develop, and that’s okay, but be careful. Women talk, and an error in your judgment can be fatal to your career. Like it or not, women can be ruthless. Of course men dish, too, but when they do it it’s called networking. When women do it, it’s called gossip.
As women, it’s time we raise our standards and step into a new leadership model that, among other things, discourages gossip. Women need to stick together and support—not sabotage—each other. Remember sisterhood? What ever happened to that? The change starts with each of us. And it starts by approaching women you work with from a different perspective. Instead of seeing them as potential enemies, what about interacting with them as allies, and setting an example by showing respect and fostering collaboration.
A New Perspective
Try this: Look at a woman you feel competitive with and ask yourself what you can learn from her. What does she know that you don’t? Maybe she is always impeccably groomed, or she has a charming way with people. Don’t compete with her, or tear her down behind her back by gossiping about her. Step up and turn all this around to make it positive—for you—and others.
The change starts with awareness and a sincere desire not to harm others. Be aware of the things you say—and hear– about your coworkers. Some people are totally unaware of the impact they have on others.
Awareness is the key to holding yourself in check the next time you’re in a situation that invites gossip. Negative gossip can be effectively derailed by changing the subject or interjecting positive comments.
Gossip: A Weapon or Gift?
Groups break up into cliques and employees start refusing to work with others. Here’s how it starts:
“When you’re sitting in that business meeting, be attentive to when the talk drifts away form the official task at hand to people who aren’t present. Be aware that what is going on is a form of politics and it’s a form of politics that can be a weapon to undermine people who aren’t present. But it also can be a gift. If people are talking positively it can be a way to enhance someone’s reputation.”
-Indiana University Sociology Professor Tim Hallett
Here’s the thing that most people don’t realize—as a listener, you are a co-narrator to the gossip. In other words, the act of active listening actually supports and promotes gossiping. The more you listen, the more you encourage it. If you don’t listen, the gossip has nowhere to go.
Beate Chelette is a respected career coach, consummate entrepreneur and founder of The Women’s Code, a unique guide to personal and career success that offers a new code of conduct for today’s business, private and digital world. Determined to build a community of women helping each other, after selling one of her companies, BeateWorks, to Bill Gates for millions of dollars, Beate created The Women’s Code Leadership for Women in Business that she is introducing for the first time in late October.