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On Gossiping in The Workplace

gossiping

Can anyone honestly claim to have never gossiped in the workplace… to have never talked about somebody – a coworker or a boss? Well, it’s probably not fair for me to make the hasty generalization that everybody in the workplace gossip. But isn’t that true? Am I really committing that fallacy (hasty generalization) should I argue that nobody in the workplace could come out clean when it comes to gossiping or am I merely stating a fact?

Gossiping is so prevalent and ubiquitous in the workplace, even in the academe where people, professionals that they are, are supposed to be well-educated and should be conducting themselves within the bounds of professional ethics, couldn’t refrain from wagging their tongues and loosen their lips. And I think that even the so-called servants of God – pastors, priests and nuns – are not immune to gossiping. Right? I hope I am wrong.

So, if the supposedly educated and cultured people in the academe and the holier-than-thou church people gossip, how much more the ordinary people in the streets and neighborhoods?

The desire of people to gossip could not be put more eloquently than this way – “People gossip with an appetite that rivals their interest in food and sex.”3 Consider this: “People spend between 65% and 80%-90% of their day-to-day conversation gossiping.”4

Gossip could be defined negatively as “conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.”1 Words synonymous to it include “rumor”, “small talk”, “slander”, “idle talk”, and “backstabbing”.

There exists so bad a perception about gossiping. That is not likely to change notwithstanding the efforts of some researchers to present a different perspective on the subject.

Gossiping has been stereotyped, and rightly so, as malicious, hurtful, and damaging. If it goes unchecked in the workplace, it could ruin the organizational climate. Wagging tongues and loose lips could damage reputation and destroy the relationships between members of an organization. It sows distrust. It could also result to the morale of the subject of gossip getting shattered affecting his/her work productivity.

Actually, the act of gossiping can either be positive or negative. Gossip is either used  to convey important information or it is used to malign other people or damage their reputation. It all depends on the motives of the gossipers.

Studies identified four possible motives for passing gossips. They are as follows: to maintain group norms; to enjoy; to inform; and to influence others negatively.2

Personally, I classify gossips in the workplace as “work-related” and “personal.” To talk about co-workers and managers is something that is really impossible to avoid especially when the co-workers conversing are very close friends. It’s so difficult not to talk about the way other people perform and behave in the organization.

What makes talking about the performance and behavior of the people that surround us in the places where we work negative is our motive. If there is nothing malicious in our intention, I believe it’s okay. Gossip can also be viewed “as the exchange of information with evaluative content about absent third parties.”2 We can discuss about the accomplishments (or the mistakes) of our fellow employees or our managers for the purpose of determining the good things we could emulate from them or to avoid repeating whatever mistakes they may have committed. Even managers also talk about people they are supervising when rating their performance and when evaluating policy implementation. 

But when the discussions  about co-workers (or employees being supervised) are fraught with envy and jealousy, of an obvious attempt to malign them… to strike daggers in their backs… that’s gossiping rearing its ugly head.

We can discuss about people in our organization to celebrate their success or tarnish their reputation. We can gossip to praise our co-workers and bosses or make fun of them.

Others really go as far as talk about the personal lives of other people in the workplace. I could not find any justification for people to talk about the personal lives of their co-workers. The act is simply malicious. Well, if perhaps the intention of the discussion is to figure out how to help a fellow employee wiggle out of a difficult situation then well and good. But if the motive is either to make fun or demonize the subject of the gossip… to push him/her deeper into the quicksand… for goodness’ sake – STOP!

One thing we should remember is this – if the gossiper among your co-workers tells you stories about somebody in your workplace I bet that that same gossiper tells something about you when he/she is talking to someone else.

Perpetrators of  gossips should know that  they could be at risk of being ostracized by  their fellow employees for what they are doing. Gossipers and rumormongers in the workplace are avoided like the plague. Only a fool would associate himself/herself with (or trust) them.

There are different kind of gossipers and the best advise I could give is – AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS.

Let me share the most significant part of  the conclusion of a study on gossiping that clearly identified the different kinds of gossipers.

“Every person deals with anxieties. These anxieties are normal in an everyday transitory sense. However, when a person becomes fixated on the pursuit of his satisfaction as the only way to resolve his basic anxiety, his “basic anxiety” turns into a neurosis. [Does this mean that gossipers are neurotic?] The neurotic trends all point to one or all of the purposes of gossip and thus, indicate that a person’s propensity to gossip is grounded on his anxieties. The compliant personality is the gossiper who gossips for acceptance, affirmation and love. This gossip purpose focuses on friendship/intimacy, and entertainment. The aggressive personality is the individual who is often described as domineering, difficult, and unkind. This is the gossiper who gossips for information, power and influence. Gossipers under the aggressive personality trend have more tendencies to gossip manipulatively and maliciously. The detached personality is the one who is inclined to gossip for information. Owing to his being aloof, cold, and indifferent, there is a wider gap between what he knows in the social structure he belongs in and what he does not know; thus, he is predisposed to gossip in order to acquire information. A person’s anxieties and neurosis is a reflection of his self-concept. The incongruity between a person’s self-image and ideal-self yields a mismatch that normally leads to poor self-concept.”5

Well, the best thing to do in the workplace is to not give anybody a reason to talk about you. Perform your duties and responsibilities as prescribed in your job description and avoid acting like an a s _ h _ _ e. This is when gossip serves a positive role – ensure that members of the organization adhere to rules and standards. Unless you want to be the subject of gossip in the workplace, you should not fail to perform the way you ought to and never misbehave.

Anyway, gossiping is here to stay. The gossipers will never go away. They could be seated right next to you or you could be sharing the same office. You’ll never know if the co-worker you consider as the best among your buddies has been whispering to every ear in the organization the secrets you have entrusted to him/her.

So, BEWARE.

And when you think that gossipers in the workplace spread rumors tantamount to defamation of your character,  you can seek the protection of the law.  You can sue them. Defamation of character is a punishable offense.

__________

  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/
  2. Foster, E. K. (2004). Research on gossip: Taxonomy, methods, and future directions. Review of General Psychology, 8, 78–99.
  3. Wilson, D. S., Wilczynski, C., Wells, A., & Weiser, L. (2000). Gossip and other aspects of language as group-level adaptations. In C. Heyes & L. Huber (Eds.), The evolution of cognition (pp. 347–365). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  4. Dunbar, R. I. M., Duncan, N. D. C., & Marriott, A. (1997). Human conversationalbehaviour. Human Nature, 8, 231–246.
  1. Chua, S.V, Uy K.J, (2014). The psychological anatomy of gossip. American Journal of Management 14(3), 64-69

The Different Animals in the Workplace

animal-office-martin-daveyI couldn’t agree more whenever people describe the workplace as  “a jungle.” I have worked long enough – thirty years in 8 different institutions in 2 countries – that I have enough reasons to concur  with that description. There are uncanny similarities in the behavior of people inhabiting the working environment and the animals in the forest. Even the patterns of relationships between people in the field of work resembles the way the living creatures in the wild treat each other. Thus, they say, in the workplace “only the fittest survive.”

I have been in this jungle called workplace for three decades now. Here I am, still standing and breathing. I managed to hold my own against the different animals I encountered in my journey. I experienced being stared down by a lion, stalked by an eagle, bitten by a snake, and clipped by a crab.  I survived.

How did I do it? How did I live to tell the tale?

I simply took a cue from Charles Darwin. He theorized that “species with useful adaptations to the environment are more likely to survive.” That exactly is what I have been doing (and what you should do also) – ADAPT.

If you wish not to be dinner for the predators it would behoove you  to study carefully the environment of the workplace where you belong. Know what kind of animals you are dealing with. Study them carefully. You also need to put your survival instincts into full gear.

Predators lurk in the shadows. It could be a big cat hiding in the bushes or   a mighty bird hovering above. These predators could the “people upstairs” or somebody from among you “downstairs.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that all bosses succeed in their business endeavors  at the expense of the people in the rank and file – like predators slaying their preys and eat them. Perhaps a majority  of them (I hope) consider themselves rhinos and the people they hire oxpeckers whom they allow to freely land on their backs to feast on the insects pestering them.  The point I wish to drive at when I argued they (the bosses) are predators is that they are on the top of the food chain and like it or not you’re on their territory. They dictate the terms and conditions of your employment. That doesn’t sound good but it’s the reality in the workplace.

The ones who own or manage the workplace  are the alpha males. You need to have a full understanding of how they think and operate. Better if you could dig deeper and try to know what they like and dislike. If it is not too much for your dignity (or should we say EGO) to adapt to their whims and fancies then stay in the pack. You could flop onto your back, not necessarily to submit but to submit to the alpha males.

If not, if your ego clashes with theirs, the wisest thing to do is find another pack.

Believe me, you cannot afford to take too much bravado and think you are that brave “angry bird” who would tweet your disagreement  and not expect  dire consequences. Your chirps will not go unnoticed and before you know it the eagle will swoop down on your nest and tear you apart with its powerful beaks.

More often than not, or almost always, that locking horns with the “powers that be” in the workplace is like Don Quixote fighting the windmills.  It’s a losing proposition.

Of course not all bosses are saints. Some of them would take advantage of the people they hire in different ways. That you’d discover (hopefully) in time. So, why stay on a watering hole when you discover that there are crocodiles under the mud waiting in ambush?

What about  the predators among you “downstairs”.

Wherever you work, you’ll encounter malevolent individuals. So, be careful. Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. These are co-workers who camouflage themselves as your friends. Thinking that they are, you share with them your darkest secrets. Later you’ll just discover that the entire workplace is talking about the skeletons you’re keeping in your closet.

Let’s talk more about the different animals in the workplace. You’ve got to be able to identify them if you really want to survive the wild called workplace.

We have already mentioned about the monkey at the top of the tree, the big cats and the mighty birds. Yeah… including the wolves pretending to be sheep.

Are there other animals you ought to be wary of?

Yes, there are!

Among your co-workers spot the crabs.

Why?

Do you know what happens when you put crabs in a bucket? They’ll try to escape by pulling back down others effectively preventing anyone of them from climbing out of the bucket.

That’s the origin of the proverbial “crab mentality.” The philosophy of the malevolent among your co-workers is “if they can’t have a promotion or an incentive, neither can you.” Some people in workplaces just don’t want to see their co-workers succeeding. They so hate it when somebody climbs up the ladder especially if they’ve been there longer. These are the snakes who would bite you with intrigues and gossips when they  see you work harder that they do. They would accuse you of being a leech trying to suck the attention and favor of the people upstairs.

Don’t allow the venom of the snakes get through your nerves. Continue to work as hard as your personal values would allow you. That’s just the reality in the workplace – that generally there are two types of workers – the ants and the termites.

And with who would you rather be associated – with the ants in the workplace who keep themselves busy working and helping one another in order to achieve the goals of the organization or with the termites, whose actions and pronouncements, deliberate or otherwise, are damaging – not only to the organization but more so to themselves?

They are basically a negative bunch that should be avoided at all cost. The termites hold a grudge against the people upstairs for one reason or another and they think that by not doing  their jobs the way they ought to and by behaving oddly they could get even. They spin tales about the current state of the organization basically for the purpose of demotivating people. Be aware that the termites could also sow dissension among their co-workers.

Nonetheless, the people upstairs are not naïve. They could easily detect the existence of termites and they get them exterminated.

Watch out also for the parasites in the workplace.

The parasites seem to have special training in detecting generosity. Once they have spotted a kind-hearted co-worker who wouldn’t say no when asked for favors then they will have a field day.  They would ask you to solve their work-related problems and sometimes even seek personal favors.

So, be careful. Learn to say no when you have to or else they would eat up your time and resources. They would not hesitate to abuse you.

It’s okay if they return the favor. The problem is the word “reciprocate” is not in their vocabulary.

They also tend to exhibit that selfish attribute in their work. You could neither expect them to walk an extra mile for the organization nor perform their duties and responsibilities as stipulated in their contracts. They care for nothing but their salaries.

For the workplace to prosper, the relationship between the people and the organization should be symbiotic.

Let’s consider the relationship between the clownfish and the sea anemone. It’s a perfect example of a symbiotic mutualistic relationship. While the fecal matter from the clownfish serve as nutrients for the sea anemone, the latter provide the former with protection from its predators.

You can choose between becoming a parasite or a clownfish.

The workplace gives you a venue for professional growth and a source of livelihood. You need to keep it afloat. Your organization needs your help for it to succeed and continue existence. You may have disagreements with the people upstairs but you need to bear in mind that commitment to job and organization is different from commitment to your employers.

Lastly, in order to survive in the forest, you need to clearly determine where you rank in the food chain. Identify the different kinds of animals there. And most importantly – don’t stand in the path of your predators.

It’s as simple as knowing your designated place in the organization, being mindful of your words and actions, and being careful with how you deal with everyone. And remember that the most foolish thing to do is to offend your employers.

You have to study the culture of the workplace. Again… ADAPT. Remember what Charles Darwin said, “It’s not the strongest  species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

If you can’t adapt, it’s time to migrate to another forest.

via The Different Animals in the Workplace

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