How Gossip Becomes Bullying

How Gossip Becomes Bullying

Here’s a recent article on workplace bullying and the role of gossip in bullying. But, what exactly is gossip?

Gossip is rumors or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature. A “gossip” is someone who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts. Oftentimes my clients report that groups of people spread the gossip (that’s called mobbing).

What are the Consequences of Bullying Gossip?

Such gossip can ruin a person’s career. The gossip has “legs”. What happens is that even those who supported the target of the gossip in the past (including hiring them and promoting them) seem to lose faith in that person. When my clients discuss the gossip they have suffered, they outline defaming, erroneous, and egregious lies that harm their reputation, credibility, and professional experience.

If the target defends herself or himself, then he or she is labeled as weak and defensive. If the gossip is ignored, then it becomes true. In either case – speaking up or staying quiet – the target loses. There is no way to fight back against gossip unless we as colleagues and co-workers stand up and defend the target against the mob!

It’s Up to Us

It’s time for guerilla action against bullying gossip. Waiting for employers to develop policies and procedures about bullying in general and gossip in particular leaves us powerless. What can we do now to stop gossip?

Some action steps:

  • Don’t participate in the gossip behavior
  • Don’t make things worse by repeating it
  • Don’t exaggerate
  • Be aware of the power of gossip
  • Don’t get on the mobbing bandwagon
  • Defend the target with facts

These are real actions you can take to directly impact the culture of your organization for the better. Don’t wait for someone else to do something about it.

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.

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  • StandUp73

    Thanks for your article about gossip and how it can become a form of bullying. Gossip and rumours have long been a precursor to bullying, and now social media can make it even easier for someone to use gossip to their advantage. I like your 6 tips about how to stop gossip and particularly the last point about making sure you deal with the facts.