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Dealing with gossip in the workplace – Part II

MARY Mulendema (not real name) works as personal assistant for a human resources manager in a large corporation.
One day, Mary was asked to take dictation by the human resources manager, Mr. Mwanza (not real name), and she then typed a letter and put it in Mr  Mwanza’s in-tray for his signature.  
The letter was addressed to a senior engineer, Emmanuel (not real name), in the same organisation, who happened to be Mary’s husband.  The letter communicated management’s intention to promote Emmanuel to a more senior position within the same organisation.
Three days went by and the letter was not signed.  By the fifth day, Mary could not keep the information to herself and decided to mention the contents of the letter to her husband, while they were at home and insisted that she was telling him ‘in confidence’.
Another five days passed and Mr Mwanza still did not sign the letter or even mention the subject to Emmanuel.  Emmanuel could no longer bear the suspense and one morning, he stormed Mr. Mwanza’s office to confront him over the delay in giving him the letter.
Unknown to Mary, management had decided to reverse their earlier decision and the letter had therefore been shredded. Mary was therefore subjected to disciplinary action.
This incident is one of many that take place in organisations where people who are supposed to keep confidence fail to do so.  This could be one of the reasons why some organisations have a policy that does not permit members of the same family to work in the same organisation or same branch, in the case of very large organisations.
Divulging information that one has come across by virtue of their position in an organisation is very unethical and unprofessional. Dealing with gossip is one of the greatest challenges that many management teams face.
Sadly, there are some managers who take action based on what they have heard, without even properly investigating a matter.
Instituting penalties against rumour-mongers can help reduce rumour mongering and gossip.  The challenge, however, can be how to identify the source of the gossip.  Organisation leaders could promote a culture, in an organisation, where individuals are encouraged not to entertain gossip.
People who delight in gossip usually suffer from low self-esteem.  The office gossip is usually one who feels on some level very powerless.  What can make a person powerful? When he or she has “information” which others may not have.
If this person seems to always be in the know about things going on in the office, there is a greater tendency for others to seek him or her out for the latest titbit. This gives the gossip the sense of power which he or she wants and needs, but is unable to get in a legitimate manner.
The gossip usually hints or makes innuendoes about other people and this suggests that he or she is not even confident enough to make a firm stance on the information being shared.
You can effectively deal with a gossip in only one way, and that is in a very direct manner. If you let him or her know that you are not interested in engaging in harmful conversations about another person, he or she will leave you alone.
There is one other method that can work very effectively, and that is a group discussion on how people feel about gossip or being the subject to this “destructive and non-productive” talk.
Being direct with this person and letting him or her know what your thoughts are may not make you fast friends, but, then again, why would you want to befriend a person like this anyway?
Remember, a flower cannot grow in soil that is not right for it. If you and your workmates allow this type of behaviour to continue without addressing and correcting it, you have contributed to creating fertile ground in which this person’s negative trait can grow and flourish.