The Relationship Between Gossip & Conflict: What’s the Boss to Do?
Not all workplace conflicts are bad for your organization. Some can be healthy. A bit of head-to-head constructive tension and conversation, particularly if the people are seeking a solution to the issue and not to harm one another, can bring out new ideas and opportunities.
However, conflict becomes unhealthy when people at your organization are attacking one another’s character, abilities, and personality. When there is tension, gossip and things feel really personal, then you have a problem. And that problem among your employees might rise to the standard of bullying (e.g., character assassination strategies) or it might be some of the lesser abrasive behaviors, which can have the same negative results on productivity and profitability.
So, what are you to do? If you are like most employers, then most of the time NOTHING! But that’s the wrong answer to workplace conflicts.
A recent survey revealed that although most bosses can’t deal with conflict, the employees want them to deal with it and even expect them to do so. The survey indicates that every time you ignore a conflict, including gossip, you lose credibility and that makes everything worse. If they cannot count on you, then the environment begins to be a “free for all” rather than a constructive workplace.
So, what are some solutions for bosses like you?
- Be clear that gossiping is not acceptable. Don’t collude with gossip. Don’t take sides, and don’t tolerate it.
- Recognize that gossip is an expression of underlying conflict. Use it to get a gauge on the real problem—people are not happy with the situation.
- Find out the real problem. Ask people who are gossiping “What’s going on? Why are you complaining about this person?”
- Prepare yourself to take action to stop the gossip by understanding the causes and then working with the team to create solutions. These solutions might include transferring people to other teams, disciplinary action, training programs to help people learn to work together, and focusing on outcomes for the team by holding everyone accountable for their participation.
- Remember, if you just “forbid” the gossip, you are simply driving it underground. You need real solutions—open and honest communication, building teams with people who respect one another and working together to achieve common goals.
Recently a client of mine who is suffering with gossip in her workplace mentioned that the VP of her division said to her “I’m so tired of the ‘he said, she said’.” When I heard this I thought “I bet your are. Now take some action to deal with it.” But, alas, the VP is not my client. However, if you are the VP in your organization and you are dealing with gossip, then it’s time to step up.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.