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September 10, 2012 / mike54martin

Stop Talking Behind My Back

Gossiping is like kids playing with a sharp object. Sooner or late someone is going to get hurt. A lot of what passes for ‘harmless” gossip is enough to tear down someone’s reputation or destroy their self-confidence. It’s not all like that but when gossip turns malicious it has the capacity to hurt both individuals and the workplace.

Human nature suggests that an outright prohibition against gossip would be about as effective as making bingo illegal. It just won’t work, especially in these days of text messages and Facebook and e-mails. And some people just feel the need to fill in the blanks whenever they see that a piece of information is missing while others see it as their duty to keep the social interaction lubricated with juicy tidbits from time to time.

But that doesn’t mean that an employer or a group of employees acting together can’t agree to limit the extent of the gossip and the potential damage that it can cause. This damage is not only to the good name and ego of those gossiped about but it can also have a debilitating effect on the overall morale of the workplace itself. It does this by poisoning the water in the water cooler and creates an environment where only the gossipers feel safe. And not even for them all of the time.

There are things that both an employer and individual employees can do to reduce the level and impact of gossip. In a formal manner an employer or manager can create a policy that discourages gossiping with appropriate sanctions and by promoting a more positive and healthy workplace. But even more important than a paper document is setting a good example by not participating in the latest round of innuendo or rumour, especially for supervisors and managers. Individual employees can also do their part by telling the gossipers that they don’t want to hear their “news: and by correcting any misinformation which comes their way.

Individual and collective actions like these put gossip mongers on notice that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and many will take the hint and clam up, at least for a while. But just like any other form of malignancy, gossip will flare up again if it is not checked so vigilance is a key word when it comes to stopping the spread of gossip at work. If you think that gossip is okay and don’t see anything wrong with it then what about if the gossip was about you. How would you like it if you heard that people were telling lies about you behind your back? That’s probably the best reason of all to try and reduce gossip at the workplace.

And remember the old proverb: “He who gossips to you will gossip about you.”

This post originally appeared on my blog at

Mike Martin is a writer and the author of The Walker on the Cape, a mystery set in Grand Bank, NL. For more information please visit


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