You’ve just had a run in with (let’s call him) Frank – the office blowhard. He’s stolen 10 precious minutes of your life blabbing on about his daughter who won the soccer tournament and how he’s the coach of the team, and his wife just got a promotion at work, and they are planning a fabulous vacation to Tahiti and so on.
Wouldn’t it be great to run over to your friend and colleague (we’ll call her) Kathy, roll your eyes and give her the blowhard blow by blow? She would laugh with you and commiserate. The two of you would create a deeper connection just by sharing that bit of gossip. You would relish the sensation of “agreement” with someone else and that delicious taste of “being right” about something; Frank is a blowhard.
Three days later, your team mate Beth misses another deadline due to disorganization and laziness. You are beyond frustrated. This time you ask Kathy if she will take a walk around the block with you, so you can complain about Beth and her less than stellar work habits. Kathy has also had her negative experiences with Beth and the two of you enjoy swapping “Beth war stories.”
Intoxicating isn’t it? Feels great in the moment but might not be so great in the long run. As human beings we want to be right, we want to be in agreement, we want to connect.
When we are frustrated at work, we can look for that connection through taking someone we trust aside and sharing a story that sheds a negative light on another person or people.
You may be upset with your boss, the administration in general, your direct report or a colleague who you rarely interact with – and that upset can get relieved through gossiping about it – but what’s the price you pay? What’s the price the organization pays?
When you share a negative story, you are spending even more time in that negative spin cycle.
Much like finishing an entire box of cookies on day 3 of your diet – it feels good in the moment, but the result is a sense that nothing will ever change.
You may have found someone to agree with you (or some very delicious cookies) but you haven’t solved or even addressed the issue at hand. And so, you can probably count on continuing to come face to face with blowhard Frank , cleaning up Beth’s mistakes and being up to your elbows in a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints.
Not to mention the potential fallout for the people who can pick up on your signals no matter how stealthy you are – they see you and Kathy on your walks and in your huddles. They wonder what you are talking about. Is it about them? Separation and angst is created for no reason.
Kind of makes you want to bake up a dozen Toll House, doesn’t it? I know.
Giving up office gossip is hard so there better be some damn good benefits:
- Instead of reliving negative emotions, you focus your energy on solutions. (this even has health benefits!)
- Once focused on solutions, you can make small changes that will help to relieve the frustrations.
- You begin to model a new way of being at work, that creates trust and connection across the board.
- You get to spend your time with Kathy swapping stories about your partner’s promotion, your son’s winning game and the great vacation you are planning this summer.
Coach Me Quick Tips for Stopping Office Gossip:
- Tell your friends that you are trying something new and you need their help. Explain that you are going to give up complaining about others in the office.
- When you feel frustration, find another way to relieve it. Instead of complaining about Frank – see if you can engage Frank in a conversation that YOU are interested in having with him. Sit down with Beth and tell her you are frustrated – invite her to be a part of the solution with you.
- Find other sources of connection – take that walk or coffee break and talk about successes, wins, and even ask for practical advice and solutions. As long as the conversation is proactive and not reactive.
- You might even set up a little game for yourself. How many days can you go without an eye roll, testy aside or gossip session?
And, if you fall into some office gossip, forgive yourself. To eat cookies is human.
Doing my best to give up cookies, in L.A.,