One Team Member Gossips

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about gossip: The actual issue is A4 who is very talkative, often informs other employees not belonging to our department – all the happenings in our department – be if official or personal.

We are a team of 4 in Accounts department – let’s say A1, A2, A3, and A4. A1 – The Boss. A2, A3, A4 – coworkers of the same level reporting to A1. The actual issue is A4 who is very talkative, often informs other employees not belonging to our department – all the happenings in our department – be if official or personal. Talking about the official aspect, I’m very much depressed because of the constantly letting out all official information.

Recently, A2 made a mistake in her daily routine. A4, as expected, informed this to an employee of another department (according to B), dutifully. B and myself (A3) are very good friends – so whatever information she receives she informs me, though not formally.

During our informal chat, I objected to A4’s behavior. And to my surprise my friend (B) actually supported A4 (possibly because she is interested in gossip) – which made me re-think whether I have any problem. She said, “You can’t stop people from talking”.

Well, she might be right. And, she also questioned my authority to take up the issue with A4. However I’m of the view that no information of MY DEPARTMENT should be leaked to another – whether crucial, casual, confidential or anything else. My questions are: 1. How to ensure that A4 does not let out our department information to others? 2. How to tell my friend B that her support to A4 in unjustified? 3. How to handle this entire issue amicably? Thanks for any of your expert and kind advice.

Signed, The Patriotic Accountant

Dear The Patriotic Accountant:

Yes, you have a problem. You have a problem because your team does not talk about talk. In short, your team of accountants has not made it OK to discuss what is appropriate to say to each other and to those outside your team. Sport teams learn to know each others’ moves. Before a game they plan and practice. After a game they have skull sessions to review what went well and what needs correction. Can you amicably handle this OK by B of 4’s spilling inside team information outside your team? (I assume when you use the letter B, you are referring to the boss, your friend.) If I understand you, B has said that people will talk and you can’t stop that, and therefore, she challenged your right to speak to 4 about gossip about your team beyond your team. Can you talk back to B? Can you defy her suggestion, order or preference that you not speak to 4 about gossiping? Your questions make it sound like you want harmony and at the same time want to challenge B, your boss and friend, by confronting 4. You might not be able to do both by directly confronting them.

I expect that the four of you accountants sometimes huddle to talk about who does what, when assignments are due, how mistakes might be prevented, and how you might assist one another. Such task-talk is normal. What apparently is not a norm in your team is talk about talk. You can get that on the agenda by talking about quality improvement, and this has the potential of answering the three questions you raise, and doing so amicably.

Rather than approaching the issue of 4’s gossip directly, I propose that you approach B and your team from a quality improvement perspective. To do this, you can informally launch conversation about ways your team might more effectively deliver accounting to your internal and external customers. This entails defining who gets what information and who dose not. It also entails ways to do this efficiently and effectively and who approves of what information goes out. Informal conversation about quality improvement inevitably progresses to formal meetings. Why? Because, even in a team of only four, policy does not become practice until and unless there is consensus and rules are formulated.

More importantly, the fundamental fact is that for teams to function effectively they must talk about talk: What is OK to say to one another and to outside is not something that emerges without making that explicit. To work together effectively, a team must come to an understanding that it should have regular, possibly as frequently as once each week, a time in which it sets aside time to talk about what has gone well and what needs improvement, just as do sports teams with their skull sessions before and after a game. Does this make sense and have the potential of addressing your three questions? If not, hopefully it will prompt you to find more creative answers to the concern you voice. And incidentally, you said this gossip of 4 depresses you.

Gossip might disgust you but is it really so vexing that it depresses you? Is it mentally healthy to allow little annoyances to sour your day or your working relationships? What is important is that you earn your right to voice your concerns and you do that by having a positive mental attitude, one that cheers on what is good and allows the small stuff not to frustrate. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. How might you apply this principle to your team?

William Gorden