On Gossiping in The Workplace
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.
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.
- Foster, E. K. (2004). Research on gossip: Taxonomy, methods, and future directions. Review of General Psychology, 8, 78–99.
- 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.
- Dunbar, R. I. M., Duncan, N. D. C., & Marriott, A. (1997). Human conversationalbehaviour. Human Nature, 8, 231–246.
- Chua, S.V, Uy K.J, (2014). The psychological anatomy of gossip. American Journal of Management 14(3), 64-69
Is The Workplace a Jungle?
I couldn’t agree more whenever people describe the workplace as “a jungle.” I have been working long enough – thirty years in eight different institutions in two countries – that I could cite a thousand or two reasons why I consider that description accurate in the metaphorical sense. 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 resemble 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 cross paths with as I searched for greener pastures and overflowing water holes. I experienced being stared down by a lion, stalked by an eagle, ambushed by a crocodile, bitten by a snake, clipped by a crab, and stung by a bee. Attacks that left me scarred. Nevertheless, I survived – still alive.
How did I do it? How did I live to tell the tale?
I simply took a cue from Charles Darwin who theorized that “species with useful adaptations to the environment are more likely to survive.” Adaptation is the name of the game. That exactly is what I have been doing (and what you should also be doing if you intend to stay alive and sane in your workplace) – 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 who succeeded in their business endeavors did it at the expense of the people in the rank and file – like predators slaying their preys and eat them. It could be just a few, or half, or most of them. Nobody knows for sure. But definitely not all. 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 posited that they (the bosses) are predators is that they are at the top of the food chain and like it or not, when you agreed to work for them, you entered 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. These whims and fancies could be the policies that you consider disagreeable. You’ve got to make a choice whether to follow these policies or not. For not following, of course you are not naïve not to understand that there are consequences. Following the terms and conditions of your employment is not equivalent to flopping onto your back to show that you submit to the alpha males. It is simply like the chimpanzees presenting their backs, crouching, bowing and bobbing in order to show deference to the alpha in their group.
If not, if you are tired of being an omega, if your ego clashes with that of the alpha, the wisest thing to do is leave. Find another pack, or better still, be a lone wolf. Don’t be employed. Establish your own business and be your own boss. If you succeed and your business grows big, hire people. That is your chance to be the alpha and see for yourself if you are a better one than your former bosses or… worse than them.
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 unheard 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 a deer thinking it could take on a full-gown lion. 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 know that there are crocodiles under the mud waiting in ambush? Move out. You’re not a tree! You have limbs. Run, walk or crawl from out of there.
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 but would stab you in the back when they have the chance.
Okay. 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 the workplace.
We have already mentioned about 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!
Watch out for them. Better watch them like a hawk.
Be careful of the buzzing bees called the rumormongers.
Thinking that they are your friends and therefore could be trusted, you share with them your darkest secrets. Letting the cat out of the bag is the biggest mistake you commit with this type of animals. Later you’ll just discover that the entire workplace is talking about the skeletons you’ve tried so hard to keep in your closet for so long.
Gossiping is a deadly disease in the workplace. It kills reputation and trust. It ruins relationships and careers. So widespread it is that even the people who consider themselves as professionals and who think of themselves as decent individuals spread gossips – both personal and work-related – unmindful of the pain and shame their traitorous act might inflict on their victims.
Identify who among your co-workers are fond of tittle-tattling. Don’t say anything negative to them about the work, co-workers, much less personal matters. Just listen when they talk. Don’t fall into their trap. They will quote you without batting an eyelid. But here is the best way to deal with them – avoid them like the plague. They sometimes appear as if they wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s their facade. The truth is – they are dogs that eat dogs.
Among your co-workers, you should also be able to spot the crabs.
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 than 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. Let them not succeed in getting your goat. Continue to work as hard as your personal values would allow you. Don’t be pig-headed like them.
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 won’t 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, if you feel so disrespected and gravely offended, if you think you are no longer growing professionally – what are you waiting for? It’s time to migrate to another forest.
If you think that your current workplace is (as described by Simon Sinek) “like a tree full of monkeys where everyone at the top, looking down, sees only smiles but everyone at the bottom, looking up, sees only asses” then you should leave as soon as possible. Unless you could stomach looking at the same “asses” everyday when you go to work.
And when you’re finally out and begin looking for a new workplace, don’t ever expect that you’ll find a perfect workplace. That’s a wild goose chase. You’ll never find one. You’ll see the same animals.
Realities in the Workplace
Is anyone indispensable in an organization?
Ask NBA player Isaiah Thomas and he would tell you “no one.”
The experience of Isaiah Thomas in the NBA, getting traded by his former team, the Boston Celtics, to the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite giving his all when he played with them, despite playing for them in the playoffs a day after his beloved sister died tragically in a car accident, mirrors that painful reality in the workplace.
Isaiah Thomas learned the hard way that no one’s indispensable in an organization.
How valuable was Isaiah Thomas as a Celtic player? He led the team to the best record in the East during the 2016-2017 NBA season and brought the franchise all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. He was the team’s scoring and spiritual leader. But that did not prevent the Boston Celtics from letting go of him through the Kyrie Irving trade.
Should the Boston Celtics be faulted for doing what they did?
Thomas should know that it’s nothing personal. He was hurt by what his former team did but is not crying a river over it. He knows it’s all about business. It is something he should accept, whether he likes it or not. The executives of the Celtic organization merely exercised their prerogatives. They did nothing illegal. They simply acted in what they think is in the best interest of the team. And look where are they now… (as of the January 14, 2018) they hold the best win-loss record in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.
That is one thing employees should bear in mind. There are times that employers have to do what they need to do in order for their business to prosper or simply survive. They need to implement changes and tweak policies at a certain point, sometimes at times when the employees least expected them. Notwithstanding disagreements coming from “downstairs,” changes “people upstairs” want to make, will be implemented. “People downstairs” can complain all they want but there’s nothing they could do.
When changes are implemented and policies get tweaked, the employees should not take it personally. Changes in the workplace happen when they are due. It is something inevitable. They need to get used to it. Employees need to be ready to make decisions when they happen. There are available options that they are free to exercise.
Employees may simply embrace the changes and move on. They may decide to just accept organizational shake-ups, policy modifications, and what-have-you then continue working. It’s either they view the changes as necessary or accept the fact that they could simply do nothing to prevent them from happening.
Those who would consider that such changes are unacceptable… those who think that they are being taken out of their comfort zones… those who feel being taken advantage of… do have two possible courses of action. They can either resign and continue their quest to find a perfect workplace or they will stay put and contest the legality of the changes that the employers made.
But locking horns with the bosses is a difficult struggle. Employers are always careful with decisions they make. Only the ignorant ones would risk getting hauled to court by effecting changes or making moves contrary to established laws and ordinances. Just like the Boston Celtics who certainly made sure that they have all legal loopholes covered before they finalized their agreement with the Cavs.
Most employers are wise. One of the things an employer or businessman worth his salt does is study the laws and regulations that govern his business endeavors. It’s hard to catch them off-guard in legal matters. They simply know what buttons to push whenever “push comes to shove.” In addition, they also consult lawyers to make sure that they face no legal impediments with anything that they do.
Employees who disagree with changes that those who employ them implement often fight a lonely battle which they are more likely to lose than win. They also risk getting ostracized. If they decide to settle the matter of disagreement in the court of law, the employers are ready. With all their financial resources, they are ready to fight a long-drawn legal battle until the employee’s pocket and resolve run dry. There’s also a question of whether or not the majority (or even a few) of their co-workers share their sentiments. They cannot force anybody to join their cause, especially those who consider the changes made necessary and inevitable. They should not force anybody not willing to listen to their complaints about policies and personalities in their organization to give them time for their whinges and whines.
Employees simply cannot expect their colleagues to look at things and issues in the organization in the same way they do. People in organizations do not share the same perspectives. Even their circumstances are different. People are also driven by sets of motivations that might be entirely different from one another.
Another thing that employees should always remember is that while they need to ensure that their rights as workers are protected, conversely, the employers will do everything to protect their own investments…to improve their business…or to keep their business afloat… even if it means firing their best employees. It’s nothing personal. It’s simply business.
And the lesson everybody should learn from the Isaiah Thomas’s experience in the NBA is that in an “employer-employee relationship,” business interests outweigh loyalty. Expect nothing from your employers beyond what is stipulated in your contract. They do the same. The employees just need to work as best as they can. There are employers who know how to reward those who work hard. Employers also know how to deal with the perennial whingers and whiners.
Just love the work and enjoy the pay. Find a motivation that will keep you going in the workplace. If there’s none, not even the pay, then it’s time to pack up and find another workplace.
Here is the thing, if you think you can find a perfect workplace, you’ve got to be kidding.
The workplace is a jungle. Only the fittest survive. The workplace is not for the faint-hearted and unprepared. It’s also the worst place for whingers and whiners. If you’re any of the aforementioned, you’re like a helpless deer walking in the lions’ den.
In the jungle called the workplace, you will surely perish if you’re weak, wimpy, and whiny.