It’s perfectly normal for employees to chat with one another throughout the course of the day. There’s nothing wrong with team members engaging in casual conversation, but the attitudes and topics of these “water cooler talks” are certainly relevant to the culture in your workplace. As a business leader, you absolutely need to recognize the difference between harmless conversation and toxic gossip.

Recognizing Unhealthy Communication

There are many ways to define the term “gossip” in the context of the workplace, which makes it difficult to establish clear boundaries separating acceptable dialogue from undesirable discourse. If you have trouble identifying potentially toxic communication among team members, then ask yourself a few basic questions about a conversation:

  1. Are any of the people involved in the discussion currently contributing to the issue or do they have the ability to provide a meaningful solution?
  2. Is there derogatory or negative language being used to describe a team member or the company itself?
  3. Are the topics speculative or personal in nature?

Ideally, your answers to these three questions will be: “Yes,” “No” and “No.”

How Does Gossip Actually Harm Productivity?

It’s easy to dismiss gossiping as a way of blowing off steam or venting about a frustration or concern. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean that the dialogue is either healthy or necessary. Allowing this type of communication to dominate the workplace is like drinking poison: You won’t feel the effects at first, and by the time you do it will be hard to cure.

Gossip undercuts cohesion by creating miniature cliques within the team. It pits individuals against each other, or against the company, which damages the spirit of trust and cooperation that you’ve built with painstaking care. Frequent targets of gossip may lose faith and commitment to their employer, or simply quit their job rather than face a hostile work environment.

The Remedy for Toxic Conversation

As a business leader who is concerned about maintaining a positive and productive culture, you need to set the example when it comes to acceptable conversation. Managers and owners should never initiate or participate in gossip. While people in authority roles should try to identify, and connect with all team members, they also need to set the bar through their own words and actions.

Of course, leading by example won’t solve all of your gossip problems. In many cases, there are one or two individuals within a team that are the prime source of toxic conversation. If possible, take them aside and talk to them privately about their behavior. It’s very possible that they don’t fully realize what they are doing and how it harms the people around them. If diplomatic methods don’t work, then you may have no other choice than to seek a replacement.

Every company should consider drafting a formal policy regarding acceptable dialogue in the workplace. This gives employees firm guidelines on how they should interact with each other, as well as the consequences for improper conduct. An official code of conduct also gives leaders a tool for dealing with gossipers, which they can reference without making the reprimand seem like a personal attack.

At Dante we work with the leadership team to analyze the people on your team to ensure they fall within the “GWC” check.  Curious what GWC is?  We ensure each team member “Gets it”, “Wants it” and has the “Capacity” to do their role.  Reach out to us for more information and access to valuable tools.

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