You’re the new supervisor and you walk into the break room. The banter that you could hear through the door comes to a halt as employees cut their conversation short in your presence.
Over the next few weeks, you start to hear whispers and complaints about hurtful rumors being circulated by a few employees with a chip on their shoulder.
Entering a new situation as a manager is hard enough; dealing with rampant workplace gossip can seem impossible if you’re still getting adjusted.
While you may not be able to escape the fact that team members are a little too chatty, you can use tried-and-true techniques to cut the gossip short before it starts to affect your team’s productivity and morale.
A Direct Conversation Can Prevent Conflict Before It Starts
If you read our first post in this series, you know that being direct can diffuse a situation before it becomes explosive. The same rule applies to managers – when you confront someone, don’t mince words. Straightforward talk works best, says Forbes contributor Lisa Quast.
Your goal should be to administer a private, personal (and relatively painless) reprimand before more serious measures are taken.
“Your goal is to help the person understand the impact of their behavior and the consequences of what will happen if their bad behavior continues,” Quast wrote.
These conversations should be short and to-the-point; most employees will respond if you take a respectful, strong tone.
Don’t Assume You Know Everything About the Rumor
If you’re dealing with a persistent gossiper, you can easily slip into a mindset in which the person is always in the wrong whether they’ve started a rumor or not.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is entering a conversation with an accusatory tone – you most likely have no idea what the truth is unless the rumor involves you!
The point of confronting an employee isn’t necessarily to discover the truth behind the matter. Rather, you want to communicate that rumors and gossip aren’t productive even if they’re true. Assuming an employee is wrong or right restricts your decision and makes you focus on the small picture.
The goal, as we’ve said, isn’t to find out what’s true, especially if the matter isn’t work-related. The goal is to end gossip in the workplace.
Lead by Example: Never Gossip
Rumors are one of those things that have a set of unspoken rules, one of which is, “If the boss is talking about it, it’s okay for everyone else to talk about it, too.”
Steve Howell, a contributor to Sandler Training’s workplace blog, says your employees are looking to you for an example of the proper way to act.
“Changing bad habits is never easy, especially your own, but when employees look to you for how to behave, provide a positive example,” Howell writes. “Setting the tone for positive office conversation prevents employees from inadvertently spreading negative gossip.”
The quickest way to lose respect is to join in on gossip that you know is harmful and hurtful. Joining a rumor session isn’t the right time for you to build relationships with your employees.
Get Ahead of the Gossip
There’s a lot of wisdom in the old platitude that says the best way to end rumors is to stop them before they start. Most of us tend to interpret the workplace meaning of this platitude is to set up clear rules and expectations about a workplace-wide effort to shut down gossip.
However, points out The Nest contributor Francine Richards, the best way to prevent gossip for happening is to break gossip-worthy news yourself.
“Be the first to inform staff of company decisions such as hiring and firings, new policies and policy changes,” Richards wrote. “If you can beat your staff to the punch with these items, this kills the need to speculate and perpetuate gossip.”
The Final Word on Gossip: Be Direct
The principle of being direct with those who are spreading rumors is one we found in several different articles about the topic. This can be hard news to hear since many of us fear confrontation; we live in a generation that’s very afraid of awkward moments.
Our suggestion? Be as simple and straightforward as you can. “Why are you telling this information to me?” might be a little formal, but it’s a great way to kill gossip.
If you’re the subject of rumors and you know who the instigator is, speak with them one-to-one Avoid using the word “gossip” and state the truth simply, clearly and without anger. Don’t be afraid to be firm, but don’t go overboard.
As a boss, set the example by never joining in on gossip. Be clear about your expectations on rumors, and break important news yourself so you can cut down on the chances of rumors arising.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, we suggest an article from Monster.com titled, “4 Ways to Handle Gossip at Work”.