Wright Foundation | October 15, 2015

How to Deal with
Workplace Gossip

Gossip. Collusion. Backbiting. Whatever you call it, workplace gossip can be both addictive and damaging in the workplace.


While a certain level of watercooler conversation is positive (it keeps employees connected engaged and mission-focused), negative talk, complaining and whining is unproductive, even toxic. It can cause employees to pass the buck, spin their wheels, and generally waste time. If you’re overhearing negative buzz in your office, you need to listen up and resolve it.

Addressing Constant Negativity

As a manager or CEO, you should recognize there might be a lot of truth to your employees’ discussions (even if they seem needlessly negative). Is your mission strong? Do your employees sense you’re hypocritical, being unfair or not holding true to the vision and integrity of your company? If that’s the case, you may need to take a long hard look in the mirror and consider what caused the viewpoint and what needs to happen to turn around the negativity.

If your coworkers get stuck in a “bitching” pattern where everyone tries to outdo each other with complaints, it can have a devastating effect on your morale and the morale of the entire office. Don’t engage in the drama triangle and don’t participate in the cycle. Be mission and action-focused. If it’s not worth your time and it doesn’t put you on a track towards your personal vision, then it’s time to step back.

Examine your intention. Are you engaging with sincere intent? Are you being direct and expressing your goals and your vision for the company? From the mail clerk to the CEO, everyone should work together on a shared vision for the company. Employees need to have a voice and feel engaged and important to the mission. A transformational leader really listens.

Implementing Accountability and Ownership

If you’re fully engaged and focused on the growth of your position and your company, then you should feel comfortable being direct and having clarity on how to move your company forward. Whether it’s a personal issue with your boss, or if your employee isn’t meeting the expectations of clients or living up to the company mission, you need to address issues directly with the people involved. It’s your responsibility as you take ownership, get involved and stay engaged. Don’t shy away from conflict or confrontation. You may need to handle it gracefully, calmly and clearly, but tackle it head on.

If we’re contributing to the success of the company, we need to find ways to incentivize those around us and hold our team accountable for their success and their shortfalls. When possible, money talks loudly as an incentivizer. When it’s not possible, acknowledgment, attention and accountability go just as far (and sometimes even farther). Share successes with your employees and make the company’s triumphs their wins as well.

Getting to the Root of Workplace Gossip

If your workplace has a lot of gossip, you’ll need to examine all sides of the situation. Gossip is a way to blame others for our own shortcomings. It shows a lack of ownership and a lack of intentionality. It’s an excuse for failure and a way to pass blame.

Petty gossip is usually fueled by complaints and dissatisfaction. It’s a passive-aggressive way to deal with disappointments and resentments better addressed directly. It can be a way to damage someone’s reputation in a low blow, which may or may not be true. Spreading rumors and slander reflects a lot more about the speaker than the person they’re talking about. Don’t allow yourself to engage in conversation that’s not productive and reflective of your intentionality.

To reverse the cycle of spreading negative talk and to stop the drama triangle, you need to approach the situation with clear intentions and grace. It’s not about arguing, perpetuating the misconceptions, and passing the buck. Hear out your employees and be clear about the actions leading them to success. Break out the expectations and let employees make the choice on how they envision themselves meeting those expectations. Keep your outcomes focused and clear. A transformational leader helps those around them share a vision and come together to bring about the intended outcomes.

Oftentimes, workplaces are failing because the employees are focused on what will bring them individual success or what they view as the goal of their job, which may not sync up with the vision of management or administration. Instead, sit down together and discuss ways you can harness your intentions and work towards a shared outcome. Get on the same page and be clear with job descriptions, project goals, and what success looks like for all involved.

For more ideas on dealing with difficult situations and getting more out of life, visit Wright Now and explore our selection of courses and webinars. We offer resources to help you discover more about yourself, your relationships, and your career. So start living a life of MORE today!


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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.