Have you heard about the single deadliest threat to your office culture? It’s a secret, so I’ll tell you, as long as you promise not to tell anyone.
(See what I did there?)
If you’ve worked long enough, you’ve had someone come up to you with a rumor that’s disguised as a secret. In churches, which are our clients at Vanderbloemen, it’s masked even better. “I don’t want to gossip, but I need to share a prayer concern with you about William.”
And with one sentence, the toxicity level of the office culture only goes up.
In all of the years that I’ve worked with companies and their cultures, I’ve never seen anything as deadly, or as fast spreading as a culture of gossip.
Growing up in the South, we had a weed called kudzu. It was brought to the south to help prevent mudslides and
protect soil from erosion. But if you’ve been around kudzu at all, you know it takes over whatever environment it enters. Someone once asked me, “You know how you plant a field of kudzu? You go to an empty field with a sprig of kudzu, put it on the ground, and start running fast.”
The same is true with a rumor. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has its pants on!”
The Society of Human Resource Managers directly correlates gossip with immediate effects like loss of productivity, lowered morale, wasted time, eroded trust in team members and in leadership, divisiveness on teams, and attrition of high achieving workers.
The smartest leaders I work with declare war on gossip. Here are three lessons I’ve seen the best leaders use to prevent the kudzu of gossip from taking over their workplace.
1. Be proactive with a gossip policy
Two key parts of your policy need to be in place:
- Define gossip. Be sure you define exactly what gossip is. If you’re too broad, you can open yourself up to a lawsuit. A general definition I’ve come to like is: “Gossip is when two or more people are talking about a problem without being able to be a part of the solution.”
- Policies should also clearly delineate that gossip from a superior to a person that works for them (about another person) can constitute an abuse of power. In any event, whatever policy you construct should be reviewed by an attorney.
2. Praise goes down, complaints go up
It sounds like a bumper sticker, but this piece of leadership advice has stuck with me from the day I heard it as a 25 year old. Compliments, kudos, props, and any other form of praise is best communicated down the org chart. Managers and leaders should be reminded constantly that praise goes down. The same can be said for problems. They need to go up the chart, and specifically, up the chart to a person that can solve the issue. Any other complaint is misdirected and potentially toxic
3. Commendations are written, critique is verbal
As a young leader, I had an employee really mess up a couple of times in a row. I was readying myself for the first real reprimand I needed to give a team member. I carefully wrote what I wanted to say in an email, and was set to hit send. I let an older, wiser board member review it and he said to me, “Write down what you’re going to say in a reprimand, but never give out a written copy of critique.” I asked why, and he said, “Your written words have more power than you know. People read and re-read whatever their boss writes to them. Use that truth to your advantage. Only deliver written praises. Only correct people through a verbal (and ideally a face to face) conversation. Of course, if you have an underperforming employee, you do need to have written documentation of underperformance in the employee’s HR files, but deliver that news verbally first and then present them with a plan for improvement. I’ve never had that rule fail me.
4. One warning policy
My friend Dave Ramsey has a fantastic rule about gossip: it’s pretty much “one and done.” If you are caught gossiping, you get one warning. After that, you’re fired. No matter your rank, title, productivity, or other noble qualities. You gossip, you’re fired. I’ve seen him stick to those guns for years and it’s served his company well. Despite rapid growth to over 600 employees, they are consistently voted a “best place to work.”
Gossip is such an easy trap. It starts out like something juicy to share. It gets people interested in a conversation. It’s usually easy to find faults with people to talk about. But beware. It’s toxic. It spreads like kudzu, and it will kill your workplace. Declare war on it in a proactive way today. If you’re an employee, doing so will cause your stock to rise at work. If you’re an employer, it could be the best way to protect your team and culture that you ever try.
This article was written by William Vanderbloemen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.