Kathleen Bartle, a longtime strategic consultant on workplace conflict, has written a short but eye-opening article about workplace gossip, which, she says, can ruin a person’s career since it has “legs” – “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. 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.”
Gossip may be at the very center of workplace bullying.
She defines "gossip" as 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 (called mobbing).
Employers should, of course, develop appropriate policies and procedures about bullying and gossip, but until then she recommends “some action steps” for all managers and employees, which we quote:
- 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