Surviving in gossip culture

Gossip is a corporate virus I have encountered countless times in my whole business career. I may have the one that gossiped, or I may have been in an environment of gossip for way longer than desired. And definitely, I may have been the subject of gossip. I never needed to be a clairvoyant to know that I was the subject of gossip: it is easy to see that the ongoing chitchat is about you, from the attitude changes that follow, from sentences like “I had such a different first impression of you”, from the looks… You know that sound you sometimes hear in your ear, like an echo, we say in Turkish then that someone is ringing your ears. It’s something like that.

In an article I read a few days ago, gossip was defined impeccably: “speaking of a situation with someone who is neither part of the problem nor the solution.” If there is a potential for that someone to be part of the solution, of course it is a perfectly normal approach to discuss with them that problem. This makes you someone who is seeking a solution. If you are talking to someone who is part of the problem, then that conversation leaves the realm of gossip but becomes open communication. If who you are talking isn’t either of these two, of course it is natural to converse at times to ask for counsel, but know that at that moment the line between you and gossip is incredibly thin and manage the process correctly and conscious of this fact.

In fact, the worst kind of gossip generally takes place under the disguise of counsel or advice. If you desperately need the wisdom of a third party, do not ask for it through the use of someone’s name but by focusing on the event with a nameless character.

For instance, if you are consulting your partner or close friend, if you are getting advice from someone outside of the company, we cannot call that gossip. But if the person you are expressing your feelings and thoughts to is in close contact with the person in question, these feelings and thoughts will create a perception for them. Set aside whether you are right or wrong and think of it this way: you do not have the right to create a perception of someone and spread that perception.

Why, when we have an issue with someone, do we prolong confronting them face to face and talk openly? There are so many instances where all of us do this in our personal relationships. This may have numerous reasons, but I think one of the most important reasons is not confronting the issue at the core of it… So the reason we gossip is not about the person who is the subject of gossip but about ourselves. Maybe it is the fear of hearing we are wrong, or shying away from what we will hear or realizing that it is not as important as what we made it out to be in our heads and our words… So many reasons can be given.

On one side, gossip is beautiful too… Come clean about it, which one of us can say they have never gossiped? Besides, it has its perks. Do you wish to lay someone off in your company? Set your sights on the chatterbox of the company and look how fast the news travel. Are you considering publishing a memo to announce that there will not be an increase in salaries this year? Your work is cut out for you if you have a culture heavy on gossip! Give the memo to someone and watch it spread. But don’t be surprised if at the end of the gossip chain someone screams out “Our company is going bankrupt!” If you start this fame, one of its results might be that the words you first spoke come back to you completely transformed. You can hear this sentence from a supplier, or worst from an esteemed client!

Just like in a game of Chinese whispers, the sentence leaving the source can turn into an unbelievably different sentence through a long chain. Stories start and  with the help of someone wanting to add some spice to the story, monsters appear in your tales. A remark said without much care or thought can damage all productivity and morale, can even bring about quantitative damage to the company.

Cheap communication!

You can be sure of this: if you are gossiping, someone is also gossiping about you.  This is a fact. Experienced executives use this type of gossip craftily, can even manage to turn it to their advantage. To them it is similar to mind-reading the company. Like a type of medicine used in very low doses. One more gram can be lethal. It is important to make this decision: Do you want to build a suspicion culture in the company, or a leadership culture based on trust? If your answer is the second one, do not lend credence to gossip inside the company and make considerable effort to decrease it. But if you say the first one is also okay, bear its consequences.

These consequences can be very exhilarating.

Isik Serifsoy

CEO Engage & Grow

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