It's Just Like Sugar!
How do you define gossip? (1:00)
How I define gossip. (2:30)
Banking on your workplace or group culture. (5:30)
How to get clean of a gossip addiction. (8:35)
How people will respond to you when you’re clean. (12:20)
It’s Just Like Sugar!
I have a great suggestion for you … this is one of my favorite topics, and I think it’s one of the places where a little shift can bring about so much happiness, such great connections with others, and really reduce the time that we’re distracted and feeling bad about ourselves.
The name of this article is It’s Just Like Sugar, but the important thing for you to know is this is not about sugar at all.
I was doing an assessment recently when I asked a staff member if there’s a lot of gossip in their office. She responded by asking me to describe what I meant by gossip. That is a great question, and now, I’m going to ask you.
How do you define gossip?
Maybe you came up with a definition similar to what you would find in the dictionary: “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others,” or maybe you came up with this quote from Henry Thomas Buckle: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
Or perhaps you came up with something that’s brimming with the titillation of gossip. Like Alice Roosevelt Longworth famously said, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come and sit next to me.”
Most organizations or groups, including family and friends, participate in some level of what can be defined as gossip. We all know that gossip is bad. It can be damaging and slowly wear and tear at the vital framework that keeps a group or a team cohesive, a family solidified, and an organization moving towards its goals.
How I define gossip
The way I describe gossip is by understanding what it feels like when I’m participating in it. Here are some of my definitions:
The information I’m sharing is emotional and not pure fact.
I feel an energy, a titillation, that makes it hard to hold the information – I really want to pass it to somebody else.
Somewhere inside me, there’s a little voice questioning if it’s right, if it’s healthy, if it’s productive for me to pass it on – but I do anyway.
After I walk away from a gossip-based exchange, I feel a little shame, a little remorse, and sometimes a little guilt.
I benefit from sharing the information more than the subject benefits from having me share it.
The information distracts or detracts from what the organization, the group, or the person is trying to achieve.
I hear myself starting the conversation with something like, “I’d say this to her face if she were here.”
The sharing helps me feel validated by confirming my negative stories or fears as truth.
My story ends with, “See? I told you he was untrustworthy.” or “I knew that plan would blow up in our face.” or “Yep, I was pretty certain she would be a horrible parent.”
Or lastly, the information minimizes someone who has something that I secretly covet or desire for myself. “Did you hear she just bought a new Jaguar? Well, I heard from my neighbor that she owes money to everybody in town.” or “Yep, he looks great. But my sister told me that he’s having an affair.” or “I don’t want to cause any trouble, but I think you need to know that everybody thinks she’s a bad manager.”
Banking on your workplace or group culture
When I think about positive culture and climate in a workplace or with a group, I like to think about a savings account.
You can make deposits in the savings account, and over time, you can build it to be strong and healthy, even enjoying the benefit of a little interest or dividend. Or you can make withdrawals from the account, depleting the savings and gaining no interest and no dividends.
Gossip is a withdrawal from the healthy climate and culture of a group.
Gossip breaks down trust, even if you’re feeling connected and involved because you’re the one who always has the inside scoop. But think about how many people actually trust you with what really matters: How many people depend on you when a situation calls for complete focus and no drama? And how many people have been hurt or alienated by the gossip?
My favorite one to reflect on: How much time do you spend mending fences and repairing relationships that have been negatively impacted by gossip? Believe me, we are all – myself included – drawn to gossip. Sometimes it just makes me feel temporarily better about myself to be able to believe that someone else is struggling, human, flawed, challenged, or weak.
Sean Covey says, “Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down actually builds you up?” Because how long does the boost from the titillation of gossip last? And how authentic is it?
My friends, gossip is like refined white sugar:
You crave it because you need a boost.
It has no nutritional or long-term value.
Once you start eating it, your mood spikes temporarily,
Then your mood dips and you need another dose, and
Suddenly you’re caught in this vicious cycle.
It’s the same with gossip.
How to get clean of a gossip addiction
As individuals, we each have an important and powerful role in changing the climate and the culture we don’t like in our workplaces, families, or groups. Being aware of what gossip means to you and then intentionally working to break the habit is the most powerful way you can positively impact your own happiness, your own positive experience, even when you’re feeling powerless.
Here’s the path to get clean from gossip addiction
Jot down exactly what gossip looks like, sounds like, and feels like to you. This will help you to really get in touch with recognizing when you’re participating in gossip.
List all the ways you perceive you benefit from participating in conversations or exchanges that are similar to the ones you described in Step 1.
List all the ways or examples you can think of that those exchanges distract you or drain your energy.
Make a list of all the times you can think of that gossip-based exchanges have alienated you from other people through hurt feelings, the breakdown of trust, or disconnection from people who decided they don’t want to participate in gossip.
Write down examples of how your day might be different if you magically no longer had any ability to participate in gossip.
Would you have less drama? More clarity? More laughter? Would you have more time to do what you enjoy? Would you have less negative energy in your life? How do you imagine your day might be different without gossip?
Play with a phrase or sentence that you can reply with automatically when someone approaches you to tempt you with the tidbit of gossip. Practice saying it until it rolls off your tongue.
One that has been handy to me is to say, “Oh, thanks. I decided I’m just going to work on creating more positive energy in my life, so I’m not going to engage in gossip. But I’d love to hear about something that’s going really well for you.”
How people will respond to you when you’re clean
Trust me. When you begin creating a boundary, people may have a negative reaction at first; but over time, they’re going to see the benefit you derive from this new practice. They’re going to see that you have more energy, you’re less distracted, you have greater respect coming to you from others and, eventually, they’re going to jump on board.
And if they don’t follow your lead, trust me: They’re going to find another outlet for their gossip, and you may even be the subject of the gossip for a period of time.
But just remember this: People will have thoughts about you.
And that is the end of the sentence.
Clients ask me all the time, “Beth, will you be able to change the culture in our office?” and I always tell them the truth, “Nope! But you can, and I can help you.”
The first step is simple but true: Take responsibility for your own addiction to gossip and break it.
So, are you dealing with drama and chaos in your workplace? If you are, contact me. Let’s get together and dig below the apparent symptoms to uncover the real concerns, and build a plan to increase the forward movement of your team or organization.