The Impact of Gossip on Team Dynamics and Productivity

accountability addressing issues authority brand business culture communication complaining culture development gossip human behavior integrity invest in leadership leadership performance small business team management teamwork toxic communication trust venting Feb 12, 2024


In this episode, Kris Plachy is tackling the intriguing topic of team gossip – you know, that thing that has a way of sneaking its way into our business and team conversations? In Kris fashion, she cuts to the chase, sharing insights on how gossip can impact small businesses, leadership dynamics, and even our personal relationships.

She dives into the different shades of venting, complaining, and gossiping, shedding light on the underlying reasons why we humans engage in these behaviors. Kris opens up about her own encounters with gossip and stresses why leaders must confront it directly within their organizations.

Get ready for some practical tips on dealing with workplace gossip – Kris emphasizes the importance of setting clear expectations and values as a leader. She also discusses how leaders can either contribute to or combat gossip, highlighting the significant role their attitude plays in shaping the team culture.

Plus, she shares a compelling real-life story about navigating gossip within her own team, emphasizing the importance of establishing boundaries and enforcing consequences in the workplace. There’s even a suggestion on equipping our team members with tools to manage gossip.

So, if you're curious about dealing with gossip, this episode is a must-listen!

What I know ultimately, though, is we have to talk about gossip. We have to address it, and it has to be a part of our agreements and expectations that we set in our businesses, especially when we run small business.

Key Takeaways From This Episode

  1. Definition of Gossip: Differentiating between venting, complaining, and gossip

  2. Gossip and Workplace Culture: Impact of gossip on undermining authority and building actions

  3. Role of Leaders in Addressing Gossip: Responsibility to establish clear values and expectations regarding gossip

  4. Creating a Culture of Open Communication: Importance of creating a culture where issues are addressed directly

  5. Developing Healthy Workplace Behaviors: Providing support for employees to raise concerns in a constructive manner

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Hey, welcome, welcome. Welcome to this episode of Leadership is Feminine, the podcast. I'm so happy that you're here and I'm going to talk about something today that I feel like plagues us all. It's not just a work thing and it's not just a leadership thing. It's a all of us thing.

And I will say that I struggle with this personally. And also when I have clients who are struggling with it because there's so many potential ways that you can go with our topic today. What I know ultimately, though, is we have to talk about it. We have to address it and it has to be a part of our agreements and expectations that we set in our businesses, especially when we run small business.

So let's talk today about team gossip. Yay. Team gossip is, we know all the things, right? Loose lips, sink ships. We've all at least read or been forced to listen to, or because we love it, went to a Shakespearean play. We know what happens when people talk about people, when those people aren't in the room, or when people talk about things that other people have authority or control over, and those people aren't in the room.

So first of all, years ago, I saw a video that Dave Ramsey did, and you can look it up. It's still out on the YouTube. It's called the Dave Ramsey rant on gossip. It's two minutes long, and it's so good. I think it's a very crystal clear definition of gossip. And what he says is, gossip is anytime you talk to anyone about anything that they don't have the control or authority to change.

So, ever since I heard that, I thought, wow, that's so interesting. Because, of course, I know I gossip, right? He talks about how insidious it is and how it's just so tolerated that we just don't even notice it when it's happening. We don't notice what we're doing it. And there's these balances that I think get really confusing. And I'm going to do another podcast where we're going to talk about what to do when your right hand, your co-leader in the company, or co-leaders, become the one that people come and vent to, or gossip to, or complain to. But in this podcast, I just want to talk about this gossip and what we really need to be deciding as leaders when it comes to gossip.

So there's people who vent. A lot of people will say, "Oh, it's just venting. I was just venting." Then there's people who just like to complain, which I think is almost like venting. But then there's gossip, which I think tends to feel more like it's about other people, but gossip can really be about things that are happening that we don't like.

And then there's complaint. And years ago, I did a podcast about the difference between complaining and filing a complaint and they're very different, right? So gossip is salacious. What I think is true about gossip is that a lot of people use it as a means to connect with other people. They use, "Hey, did you hear..." as a way to be in the know, to establish value with someone else, to seem maybe even a little more important to someone else.

We also know that gossip is used to build factions, to garner support for your idea or your perspective for your issue. It's a way to undermine authority in a business, especially, but it even happens in a family, certainly happens with friends. It's a way to validate your own issue or concern, or sometimes even embarrassment over something that might have happened.

I think it's fair to say that gossip is part of the human condition, and I think that a lot of people gossip and they don't know they're gossiping.

So if we use Dave Ramsey's definition, now we kind of- I just like to have one, right? And I've always liked that one. When you talk to anyone about anything and they don't have the power to change it, it's wasted. Now, are there times in our lives where we just need to vent? Yes, but I think we have to be very strategic.

So I think the people that employees shouldn't vent to are people who have no ability to coach them or help them out of it. I think that's true for all of us. I think when you just want to complain and vent, you're feeding your own negative emotion. You're feeding your own story and narrative. And if you're honest with yourself, it doesn't feel good to tell it.

One of the things I used to say a lot is I, I feel like when I'm watching people complain, and then I'm just watching them repeatedly punch themselves in the face. Like, let's- can we stop? What's the next step? Why do we got to keep rehashing what you don't like? Let's figure out what you want. But we're not taught to do that, right?

And so even when I do that with people, I get like, "You know, just let me be mad." You know, there's this whole like, I'm like, "Okay, but why? Like, what's this doing for you?"

Now, when we look at gossip in a business, I often will tell you that I think that gossip is an indicator of a couple of things in a culture. First of all, is the leader gossiping? That is not always true. So do not assume I'm just saying it's always the leader's fault. I'm not saying that. But a lot of leaders, especially founders who run smaller businesses, they can be gossipy about other team members with their own team members. If we do that, it sets a stage for that to happen across the board because you're creating permission for it. It's a culture. It's part of it.

The second reason that we have gossip is we don't have a leader who commands and demands and holds people accountable for respectful behavior. So there's a lot of chatter. There's a lot of noise and that happens- like, I always think about in my lifetime in environments when I've had teams where I used to run teams that were all in different locations, right? So every location was its own little mini universe. And I could always tell the teams that were more prone to chitty chattiness because their performance wasn't as good. They were wasting time walking around with their coffee.

Hey, nowadays, it's all on instant message. It's all in your team's app. It's all in Slack. People are so, honestly, can we just say this? People are so dumb what they write on company property. I am always blown away. Like, you wrote that in an IM on the company's platform? Do you think nobody's going to see it? At any given moment. Right? All of that could be hold up in red.

People are fascinating, but they also, I think, feel quite entitled to their opinion. And so they think they're right. Right? So if you're a leader and you are getting whiffs and sniffs of gossip, you're going to have to make a decision.

Now, the problem and the peril of costs is that you found out about it because someone told you. So someone said something to someone, and then that someone told you, and it could even be bigger than that. It could be someone told something to someone and that someone told somebody to someone in that one. You know what I'm talking about, but eventually it gets to you. What do you do about it?

Now, some people would say I ignore it. And if that's how you roll, get it. I would tell you that if that is a persistent issue, it's a distraction from your business. It is sabotaging healthy work culture. And it is giving permission silently to people who prefer toxic communication and connection over why they're there, which is to deliver results.

I don't think we're going to eradicate gossip. I don't think that happens. I think we're all just too, look at, I mean, what's the news anymore? Like the news, there's these facts and then everybody has their opinions. Everybody, it's so pervasive. But what I know for myself, as somebody who's run large teams and small teams, it's a hundred percent no, that you are talking about her, and she's not in the room unless you are talking about how amazing she is. And even then, I think you should say it to her face.

If you have something that has upset you, if you have something that you don't agree with. You have to bring it up, but if you're going to bring it up, it has to be brought up in a way that you're thinking about this being a conversation, not an attack, not a complaint, not a whine, not out of anger. Just, "Hey, this happened and I want to talk about it."

Let's be honest. We're not taught how to communicate maturely as adults. Even as younger kids, we were just not taught how to do this. So all of us, all we do is just model what all of our other people did. I had in my lifetime, my mom, when I didn't do something she was happy with, we had to have a conversation. I rarely got yelled at as a child. I really didn't get yelled. Both my mom and dad were like, "We need to have a talk."

I'm telling you what, I would have rather been yelled at, right? Because conversations, you just have to sit there and be a part of them. It's so awful. But I'm very grateful to that approach from my parents because I think it's what helped me be a good communicator and I really don't fear most conversations because I can have a conversation.

So, if I find out that somebody's gossiping in my organization and it's having a derogatory effect, right, it's not positive, talking about things. It's talking about someone or something that's not right. I feel like that's my responsibility to let them know, "Hey, I know."

I want people to know for a couple reasons. The first one is, I think they should know. I think they should know that I know. Like, me pretending like I don't know what they've been saying feels dishonest, because I have information they don't have, actually.

Secondly, I think they should know that whoever it is they're talking to isn't keeping it quiet. They're talking about it. Years ago I had an experience with someone on my team that I was with her and had a really difficult experience. Not with her, but I was with her when it happened and she decided that she should tell that to the entire team. I disagreed, it wasn't her business to share. And so it became a thing, right?

Because she told people on the team, but nobody wanted to talk to me about it because they were worried. What does this mean? Because it had to do with the direction of our team. And it was a little disconcerting for me. Honestly, this is shortly before I left the last job job I had. And at some point it got to me that this person had shared with all of them that experience.

And as that person, I think for those of us who might sometimes slip into gossiping and we forget. We forget the feeling of thinking that you have shared something with someone or had an experience with someone that you thought they would honor or trust, that you trusted, and they deceived that. We are human. Things like that are hurtful.

So I had to make a decision because now I knew and I chose to address it. I wanted this person to know I knew. I wanted this person to know that what she chose to do was a violation of the agreements that we all made as a team. I wanted her to know that her gossiping was not safe for her because it does get back to me. And I wanted her to know that while she still had a place on our team, this whole experience had compromised the trust I had in her. And that I wasn't sure if that would be remedied. I was willing, but I wasn't sure. But I told her if it happens again, you won't be on this team. And I meant it.

This is why I teach my clients you've got to have very clear values and expectation. Because if you don't, this is the kind of stuff that it gets squirrely. When we have those and they're clear, they can be addressed. Just like if you came in late 12 times. You have to be able to have these conversations if we want to maintain the integrity of our culture of our team.

And also I think that if you are a leader that gossip goes unaddressed for too long, it compromises your brand. And people like to know that they work for someone who is willing to have that strong conversation. Because the last thing that's true about gossip is that it's uncomfortable to be the one that other people are gossiping to, right?

It's like, sometimes that just gets way too out of control. Like, first, it's like Joyce says something to you and you're like, "Oh, yeah, I know. Yeah, whatever". And then it just- Joyce keeps doing it and it keeps doing it. And now you're spending 15 minutes listening to Joyce and all her problems. And you don't know how to extricate. Because again, let's go back to what I said a few minutes ago. We haven't been taught how to do that.

So when you work for a leader who's willing to say, "Hey, yo, no. If you have an issue, if you have a complaint that needs to be filed, let's do it. Here's the process. Send an email to Joyce or whatever, and then we're going to follow up with it."

If you just want to take someone else's time to complain, or if you just want to paint someone else in a bad light, or if you just want to disparage this company, you can do that on your own time in your own world, but not here. That's not what we do here. That's not who we are. That's not what we represent, and I'm gonna protect my team from that behavior.

So that to me is our job. So the first thing is, as a leader, you've gotta pay attention to yourself. Are you gossiping? Listen, if your answer is like a coy, like, "Oh God, I think I am." It's okay. Just pay attention. Stop doing it. Right? You have the control to make a lot of changes. So, you don't need to gossip because you're the owner of the company.

So if there are things that are not working out, let's fix them. If there are people that are not working out, let's make some decisions, right? We talk about performance and we talk about results and we talk about behaviors. We talk about all that. That's not gossip. If we're talking about their performance, it's gossip. If we're just complaining that they drive us crazy.

But be honest with yourself because you set the tone. And usually what we do is we complain, we gossip as founders to our right hand person, whoever that is. And then what happens is we put that person in this weird predicament because now she or he is used to you doing it. So then when a manager comes to you to do it, or an employee comes to you to do it, comes to her or him, they feel like they have to listen or they don't have the skill to redirect.

And that's what I want to talk about in the next podcast, because I think we need to help our second hand, right hand, direct our first team, our managers who report to us. We need to help them understand how to handle this and what your expectations are. And I don't know that we really ever talk about it. And so this has come up now with my own clients four times this week. So it's a, it's a thing.

And I find that that happens with my clients. I see these patterns. And so I'm like, "Okay, that makes for a great podcast topic." But it shows me that there are these elements to the human experience and to our behavior as humans at work that we still have a lot to develop, and we have a lot to explore and we have a lot to invest in.

So thank you for tuning in today. You'll see the next podcast we'll be building on this. So I hope you'll tune into that and don't forget to go to thevisionary.CEO to find out what we're up to and it would be lovely to work with you someday.

Have a nice afternoon.

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