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Gossip: Spilling the 'tea' and spilling harm

Do you enjoy gossiping at work?

Your answer may be a resounding “NO”! So, we have to start at the beginning before we set your diagnosis. What is gossip? Gossip is defined as "the exchange of information about other people, usually involving the sharing of unverified or false rumours and speculation."

I am perplexed each time at the level of care that goes into spreading news meticulously, with no stone left unturned. In the workplace, this can become particularly dangerous – the odd whispers in the hallways, the little messages flying across Microsoft Teams, or that post-meeting chat unpacking something that you don’t like about a person, instead of unpacking the tasks that need to be completed.

We have become so good at calling it every other thing but gossip. We say we are 'spilling the tea' or 'sharing a concern about someone' or 'expressing our thoughts'. We have come up with all sorts of decorative terms to mask what we are actually doing - character assassination.

The point is, we have all done it. We fail to see the effects it may have on people around us, and we also may easily forget how it may tarnish our own character. In the work environment, why is gossiping bad when you are the bearer of the ‘tea’? Here are a few reasons:

  • It ruins your professional reputation

  • You lose respect

  • You become difficult to work with

  • Your ethics become questionable

If I had all day, I would list more reasons, but time waits for no man and I have a couple of work deadlines.

With your skills and expertise that you bring to the table, why are you mastering other people’s business and not your work? Did you forget that you were hired for a specific purpose and role? What does that role have to do with talking about other people behind their backs (often spreading false information)?

Gossiping creates an unhealthy culture where people feel like they cannot trust each other. When employees talk about each other behind their backs or share information about a co-worker’s personal life, this creates an atmosphere where co-workers feel like they cannot say anything because they'll be judged or criticized by their peers. Gossiping also leads to resentment between co-workers and lowers the team’s morale.

If you rely on getting your gossip fix, how can you learn to avoid partaking in such? If you are the one who ‘spills the tea’, what other productive activity can you do instead? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Fill that time up by listening to a podcast; reading a few pages of your favourite book; or call to check up on a friend you have not spoken to in a while. Don't call them to gossip, call them to find out if they are okay and let them update you on their life.

  2. If you find that you are standing in a group where gossip is being spewed, remove yourself. Better yet, you can use the opportunity to let the group know that it is wrong to talk about others in that manner. This may mean that you will not be included in their little gossip huddle going forward, but it certainly helps to draw the line on what you can and cannot accept.

  3. Find another outlet. Work can be stressful and you may have some co-workers that get on your nerves. Rather unpack that with a loved one at home or a friend that you trust, who is mature and can offer constructive guidance. Instead of it becoming a gossip session, rather ask the person for guidance on how to handle a co-worker who is difficult to work with.

  4. Remember the value of your team. Your team is only as successful as you all make it. Gossiping will slow your team down and create a very unsafe space. Rather engage in activities that will build your team up than break it down. Spend time getting to know your colleagues, check up on them, encourage them and help them. Help to create a conducive space for your team to thrive.


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