Gossip: The Silent Killer

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful in building up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

                                                                                                                                                                    Ephesians 4:29


I passed by a local business that has one of those portable billboards in front of their establishment on which the owner likes to post clever sayings designed to make people smile, think and sometimes laugh.

The saying on this particular day: “Gossip Sucks.”

At first I thought the language was a bit harsh, and seemed to be out of character with the more loving and upbeat phrases I’ve seen on this particular board in recent years. But, almost as quickly I transitioned to another thought:

It’s true. Gossip sucks.

I’m not a therapist. I can’t say that I understand why people gossip. I have lots of theories. As an executive coach, I am trained to look for patterns of behavior, and can say that the one consistent pattern I notice is that people who gossip seem to be unhappy. Unhappy people often resort to gossip as a way of giving themselves some level of satisfaction by hurting other people through their gossip.

There is nothing good that comes from gossip. It hurts relationships, increases conflict, tears down teamwork and can have a negative impact on productivity. Within organizations, gossip can be a silent killer. It’s like cancer. You don’t realize it is building up inside your culture often times until it is widely out of control. The treatment for this deadly disease is painful, and recovery is not guaranteed.

The best approach to gossip is to simply not allow it in your organization. People who attempt to gossip should be redirected to focus on doing their job. It’s also important to understand that listening to gossip IS gossiping. Encourage employees to excuse themselves from a conversation if it turns to gossip.

Several times during my career I’ve had to confront chronic gossipers and ask them stop. One of the interesting patterns (there’s that coaching pattern again) I’ve noticed among the violators is this response:

“People always come to me with their issues. What am I supposed to do?”

Right. You’re just innocently sitting there minding your business and the rest of the world wants to open up to you because you’re such a trusting shoulder to lean on (ok, so sarcasm doesn’t wear on me, sorry).

Here’s the answer to people who try to cover their incessant gossiping by blaming others:

Don’t listen to it. Walk away. If people start to gossip in your presence, excuse yourself from the conversation.

The quote from Ephesians at the beginning of this blog contains the best advice I’ve heard on how to deal with interpersonal relationships and communicating within organizations. Think about what a powerful outcome could be achieved if we all focus on building up others and refuse to allow unwholesome words to come out of our mouths.