Are You Adding To The Negativity?
If I am not careful, this political campaign is going to suck me into its ugly rhetoric and steal my joy. Reading one article leaves me a drained, exhausted, negative being.
Sadly, I'm also familiar with that feeling in another setting — caused by something I have discussed frequently with those companies that allow me to assist them with their cultural norms. The behavior I'm thinking of kills trust, teamwork, productivity, and most of all, joy in the workplace. It separates close friends, destroys relationships and harms innocent people.
I am speaking about gossip.
The Danger of Gossip
I’ve found that many people have the limiting belief that gossip is “normal” and a part of “human nature.” However, I am here to tell you that is a lie. It does not have to be that way. I think of many Shandel Group clients that could share their testimonies on how you can change your culture to eliminate the negative effects of gossip.
First let’s get clear on our definition of gossip: A conversation that leaves another person in a negative or lesser light. You will know you are listening to gossip when your peer is speaking of another in a manner that leads to a lesser opinion of that person or leaves you with a seed of mistrust as a result of the conversation.
The danger of gossip is that it meets basic human needs and desires, but in a very dysfunctional way. We all have a need for communication, community, and connection. Each person has an innate desire to be heard, understood, and valued. When we do not have skills and opportunity to get our needs met in healthy ways, sadly we will do whatever it takes to get those needs met, even at the cost of another person. If we are not careful, when that practice is threatened, we will compromise our integrity and our values by, to use the cliché, throwing another person under the bus.
The Gossiper and the Listener
The problem is not only in the one who first gossips, as we can assume that person suffers from an unmet need or underlying fear. It also is in the fact that the rest of us listen! Even if we never open our mouths in agreement, we reinforce the dysfunctional behavior by passively partnering with the speaker. I find often that the gossiper does not even realizing they are speaking ill of another person and leaving them in a lesser light. Thus, by silently listening, we aid them in continuing their destructive behavior.
The listener to gossip is as guilty as the speaker of gossip.
When I was in graduate school, I shared a house with four women. We agreed to some basic rules, but two really left their mark on me. 1) No gossip about fellow housemates, and 2) No listening to gossip. It was the second rule that kept me on the straight and narrow. I did not want to be called out by one of my friends and embarrassed because I was a gossip and not living by my values.
Conflict: A Seed of Gossip
If you want to be in healthy community and truly connect at a meaningful level with other people, you will have conflict. No way around it. Period. There will be times when we offend each other, when we miscommunicate, when we jump to conclusions, when we miss what the other person was trying to say.
When we have honest conversations to resolve those conflicts, we learn and grow from the experience of being challenged by another point of view. That is what makes us wiser and stronger as it helps grow our character. The way to PEACE is through truth. And peace-making is through resolving conflict, not avoiding it.
I hear often, “I don’t do conflict.” That makes me sad, because the only way to avoid conflict is to have superficial, easy relationships. And that’s one of the foundations of the problem of gossip. The ones that intentionally avoid conflict are frequently the very ones who are doing the gossiping. Why? Because they are trying to get their human need for connection and their desire to be heard met. Unfortunately, gossip is a refusal to engage in authentic care for others, in order to passive aggressively protect themselves.
When we listen to gossip, we allow these people to continue in their isolated world. We do not call them out of that lonely place into a community where they can be real, messy — and loved. We allow them to continue their pattern of negativity and unhappiness. Then we allow them to pollute our environment with their negativity and critical spirit.
You cannot have joy and criticism at the same time. So why would you trade in your joy card for this negativity? I don’t get it.
How to End Gossip
Please help me end gossip. I encourage all companies to adopt a similar policy to ensure that personal conflicts are being handled in a way that keeps people’s dignity and integrity in check. (Read my article on healthy conflict) I promise you, if you create a culture based on agreed-upon values and attract the right people to your organization, you can eliminate gossip as a part of your culture. You must equip people with tools and training as you provide for their communication, community and connection needs. It is simple; it is just not easy!
As you know, I got married for the first time on 12/13/14. John and I are as opposite as they come, we have potential for huge conflicts, but we are on an agreed upon journey to help each other become the best we can be. That means he has conflict with me and calls me out on my behavior and I do the same for him (see the tool we use below.) We both do not enjoy those moments, but we know that is the way of peace-making and the secret to the deep richness we share in our relationship. We have conflict, but I have never felt so loved and cared for in all my life.
Watch our blog in the next few weeks for ways to avoid gossip with tips and strategies for personal accountability.
Let’s end gossip – if not now, when?
Quotes to Curb Gossip
"A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends." – King Solomon
“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ― Socrates
“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks.” ― Shannon L. Alder
“Never judge someone's character based on the words of another. Instead, study the motives behind the words of the person casting the bad judgment.” ―Suzy Kassem
“Tale-bearing emits a threefold poison; for it injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told.” ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon
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