A great question came up in a conversation I had with an HR practitioner today. She had seen my video on what to do when someone gossips and was sharing the response she often gets when she tries to broach a gossip issue with an employee. She said that many people justify their behavior as venting—suggesting that teammates are sharing negative perspectives because they need to blow off some steam.
That’s a lame excuse. It’s pretty darn obvious when it’s healthy and when it’s not. If you haven’t thought about your own behavior that way, here’s how to spot the difference between healthy, supportive discussions with your teammates and destructive, immature gossip.
- Focuses on someone else and ignores personal accountability in the situation. “Can you believe Bob just passed over my idea without giving any time to discuss it?”
- Makes assumptions about someone else’s intent. “He is always trying to undermine me.”
- Is personal. “He’s a jerk.”
- Is focused in the past. “Bob cut me off in the meeting this morning, he shut me down last week, and I can think of three other times he’s been rude to me.”
- Focuses on the problem not the solution. “It’s so unfair. I hate how he treats me. Wah, wah, wah.”
Instead of allowing a gossip-fest, redirect your conversation to providing support for your teammate.
- Ask the person to focus on their reaction not on the other person’s behavior. “When Bob moved onto another idea before discussing your idea, you felt really slighted.” Talking about their feelings and behavior is totally appropriate.
- Offer to provide feedback about the person you’re talking to, not about the person who isn’t in the room. “Here’s how the way you presented your idea landed with me. My sense of your reaction is…”
- Offer coaching on how they might change their approach. “What might you do differently to make sure your ideas get a fair shake? How could you reset your relationship with Bob?”
We all need moments to find a friendly face, close the door, and vent. Once you’ve released the pressure valve, help your teammate make the choice to move forward. Use your teammates for support and coaching, not for gossiping.
If someone keeps gossiping to you, check out my quick video on what to do to stop them in their tracks.