Margaret, arriving a few minutes early for a staff meeting, joins a conversation with Jason and Kendra about the company softball game last week. The conversation was neutral chitchat until Jason said, “And did you see how Suzi was hanging onto Bill? There must be something going on there.” Kendra responded, “ I certainly wouldn’t put it past either of them, but things will certainly blow up when word gets out to their sig others.” Just then, others began arriving for the meeting.
Margaret was shocked and angry. Suzi was a close friend and Margaret was confident that nothing inappropriate was going on between Suzi and Bill. It was not a topic to discuss at this meeting: doing so would only circulate the rumor. But at the moment Margaret was angry at Jason and Kendra and concerned that they would spread malicious and false rumors about Suzi.
Gossip is endemic to worklife. People find one another to be endlessly fascinating. A workplace where employees never talked about one another would likely be a dull place. Gossip—valued-laden conversations about people who are absent—may be positive, neutral, or malicious. Generally, the term has negative connotations. Positive gossip—people extolling the virtues of absent colleagues—does not present a problem, as long as they share their appreciation in person as well. Negative gossip does present a challenge to civility.
Margaret has at least two goals in taking up this issue with Jason and Kendra. First, she intends to defend her friend. Passively enduring unwarranted criticisms of a friend will weaken a relationship. Second, Margaret feels responsible for maintaining a level of civility among colleagues. Tolerating malicious gossip runs contrary to that core value.
What CREW Has to Offer
The forward-looking perspective of CREW helps to address gossip issues.
First, CREW provides opportunities for people to talk about their mutual expectations. It covers not only how people interact with one another, but how they show respect when someone is absent.
Second, CREW establishes ground rules resolving problems. If Margaret, Jason, and Kendra share a CREW experience, they would have experience in raising sensitive relationship issues with one another. When Margaret shares her concerns with their gossip, Jason and Kendra would likely be less defensive and more likely to go into problem solving mode.