The People Pro

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Location: Small town, Northern Wisconsin

Barbara is an author, speaker and psychotherapist in private practice. She provides keynote presentations and is a Certified Professional Speaker, a designation held by fewer than 8% of the speakers in the world. She has appeared on FOX, CNN, and CBS and is considered an expert in relationships.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Three Tips to Avoid Harmful Office Gossip

As an outgoing and gregarious person, I have had the unfortunate experience of putting my foot deeply down my gullet on many occasions. You know what I am referring to, the actual choking on the base of your fibula and tibia after hastily saying something that now hangs in the air in an otherwise silent room.

While personally knowing the embarrassment, humiliation and regret of hasty comments, I also know that loose lips sink corporate ships. That is, office gossip promotes an institutional pathology that keeps energy focused internally in the organization rather than externally on the customer. The gossip becomes a disease, robbing the company of valuable energy, creativity and time and is very hurtful to the participants.

To avoid foot in mouth disease, I have found these guidelines very helpful:

  • Is it kind? If the comment isn’t kind, do you really have to share it? Evaluate each remark as to whether it reflects positively on the subject and you. Does it focus on the important characteristics of the person or their faults? It’s like a golf swing. I can easily find the problems with other people’s golf swings, but darned if I can diagnose my own problems. Is it the stance, the address or the follow through? (Probably all three). When we focus on the negative with people, we become the negative person. Limit your comments to kind remarks.
  • Is it true? Nothing travels faster than bad news and information that is totally false. Many a person has been deeply hurt when untrue comments are passed person to person until the truth is lost in the muck. And truth in all areas is important, even if the false information is more interesting and provocative. The misinformation becomes difficult to undo because it takes on a life of its own and passes quickly among the employees who don’t have enough to do. Even when the information is clarified later, people aren’t interested because the original false news broadcast was so much more enticing.
  • Is it important? While the trivia of life makes for good copy for the tabloids at the super market, it does not have a role in the workplace. It takes a lot of energy to follow to stay on top of all the muck and make sure that everyone “has heard” the news. Time is much better spent on understanding the customer, developing new products or giving better service. If there is any extra energy, it can be directed towards enhancing your personal creativity or finding a better balance. Ignore the trivia and focus on making a difference.

Two more quick rules: never ask anyone about their pregnancy unless you are actually observing the birth, and don’t comment on someone’s age unless you are at their funeral.