Gossip and How it Affects Perception of Coworkers

Question:

I am writing because I feel ashamed that I was involved in workplace gossip at one job that I had about three years ago. The reason this still stays with me is because while I was at that workplace I found myself becoming a mean person as a result of the gossip. Everyone participated in the gossip. Coworkers would often talk about each other behind their backs and then smile in each other’s faces. Interpersonal issues were never dealt with face to face by having a conversation and trying to resolve differences.

Well, I ended up doing something very mean to a coworker. It all started because our supervisor and I would work an hour alone together before other coworkers would arrive to start their shift. The reason why I worked alone with the supervisor for the hour was because I was filling in that time for another coworker who had gone on vacation. During the time my supervisor and I were alone in the store, she would often tell me about the shortcomings of another coworker. Any frustration she had with certain coworkers was voiced to me. I never really chimed in with an opinion; I mostly just listened to her complaints. After about a week of coming in early at the job and hearing her complaints while trying to focus on my tasks, I lashed out at a coworker whom the supervisor always criticized. To make matters worse, this coworker and I had actually been coworker buddies for a while. We would sometimes hang out together after work and go see a movie. I don’t know what got into me on that day when I lashed out at her. That morning before that coworker came in to start her shift, the supervisor had once again been criticizing her work performance. I guess the supervisor’s critical remarks really got to me because I started to view this coworker differently than I had before I started coming into work early.

Needless to say, I lost my friendship with that coworker. I realize that I only have myself to blame for that. Upon realizing that however, I thought a lot about the things that were being said about her by not only the supervisor but by other coworkers as well. They said some awful things about her. For example, one coworker would talk about this woman’s mood swings and the fact that she was on medication and how he always had to bare the brunt of her moods. Although she was taking medication, the coworker, who made this statement, only said what he said because this coworker would say something to him if he was irritating her, but I never saw her become angry with him. It felt like my mind was being poisoned to not like this woman, even though she and I had always gotten along fine before that incident. I read one question on your site in which someone felt like her coworkers were being brainwashed into not liking her, because one coworker was going around telling other employees negative things about her. The answer to that question was that people aren’t easily influenced to not like people simply because of one person’s ramblings. But I think that it is something that happens frequently. Sorry for the long rant, but I need to know how to deal with gossip in the workplace from now on, especially if it is one specific coworker who is being targeted. How do I not let workplace gossip influence my perception of the targeted coworkers? Thank you.

Signed,

Living With Shame


Answer:

Dear Living With Shame:

Your rant indicates you have an active conscience. It is good to admit your mistreatment of a coworker friend several years ago, and it is also good to analyze why gossip soured you on her. But it is not good to play this past mistake over and over like a broken record. Perhaps this query sent us about how not to allow gossip to unfairly target others is a proactive way to free your self from the shame with which you live.

You don’t say if you ever apologized or made an attempt to reconcile with the coworker friend. Perhaps that is too late. But maybe it is not too late for a phone call or brief note of apology asking for forgiveness. That doesn’t mean you would become friends again, but admitting wrong is a sign you are now more sensitive and sensible than you were then. If it is impractical to find that person, don’t obsess about it. Rather tell your self that you have learned from that past and are to go forward determined to not let it happen again. That determination, of course, is the wisdom to not allow gossip to brush black anyone with whom you or know outside of the workplace. You know that because of your first-hand experience. Moreover, you now do not want to feed on and participate in targeting others. What is it that prompts us to gossip, especially to smear another? There are many possible reasons, both positive and negative reasons to say another’s behavior is not OK. A positive reason is to clarify for one’s self and others engaged in down-talk of someone what is not acceptable behavior; such as infidelity, dishonesty, laziness, inconsideration, irresponsibility, etc. A negative reason for targeting another person in down-talk is to boost one’s own status; to say, “I’m better than that. She’s bad. I’m good.”

What rules of conduct might you make for yourself to avoid gossip that scapegoats? I’m sure you have such unwritten rules simmering within you for how it is best to see others in your workplace, such as: · Stay focused on the big picture. The big picture at work is the success of the organization and that entails meshing thinking dependently and independently to thinking interdependently. As I have said hundred of times in my signature sentence to an answer of a question sent us, surviving and thriving hinges on working together with hands, head, and heart and that takes and makes big WEGOS. Talk shop. Talk cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, and wasted effort. Talk delivering quality. Talk ways to do something more effectively; product/service durability, beauty, attractiveness and innovation. Talk of delighting internal and external customers. Talk wanting meaningful rather than make-work. With such talk, gossip will not disappear, but it will become incidental. · Realize that there is misbehavior. Sometimes it is annoying and it can be overlooked, and other times some things are rude, disrespectful, unethical, cheating and even criminal. Know the difference. Know when to speak up and firmly say STOP to rude and disrespectful acts and when to ask for an investigation of unethical, cheating and criminal behavior. · Consider the context; each of us is what we are because of the kind of training and experiences that have shaped us. Each of us must take responsibility for our character, but myriad situational factors influence what we do in a particular situation. We should not credit our own good behavior to our good character and excuse our bad behavior on situational factors, but we tend to. Nor should we attribute other’s good behavior to situational factors and their bad behavior to their lack of character, such as saying I was promoted because of the projects I completed, but she was promoted because she was lucky enough to be born beautiful and to rich parents. The fact is that good behavior, whether yours or mine, is due to many good persons who have helped make us what we are as well as to our strong effort and will power and bad behavior, whether yours or mine, is attributable to situational factors such as health, weather, failed educational opportunities, economy, betrayal, abuse, etc. · Put on the other person’s shoes. Some people have high heels; others must stuff cardboard inside them to keep out the cold. Walk in their shoes for several days to know how they feel. · Assume others have good motives and, when encounters gossip, help those gossiping realize that others’ intentions might have been positive rather than careless or malicious. Other times turn your back and don’t participate in badmouthing. Remember everyone is normal until you get to know her or him. Some are above and some are below normal. · Be a cheerleader, or at least be cheerful. Smiles and laughter are contagious and so is complaining and frowning. Rarely are there too many thank yous and ways to make another’s job lighter or brighter. Keep a sense of humor, don’t see people, as some joker said, as slinkys; not really good for anything but they bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs. I’m sure you can make additional rules for coping with gossip. You are to be congratulated on wanting civility rather than incivility, wanting respect rather than targeting and hurting others, wanting your thinking and working life to be good.

William Gorden