Columnists Features

Dealing with gossip in workplace – Part 1

NEARLY all of us have been the subject of gossip at one point or another.  Customer service cannot thrive in a place where there is gossip and organisation leaders must therefore do their best to eliminate gossip. Gossip is defined by Wikipedia as “idle talk or rumour, especially about personal or private affairs of others.” It is also defined by the Free Dictionary as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.”
Gossip is getting more and more malicious and advanced with the advancement of technology.  Those days, gossip was mainly spread by word-of-mouth and hear-say.  Now it is spread via a multiplication of means that range from text messages on the phone, What’s App, e-mail and social media – what I would call ‘see-say’.
When anything anyone thinks would make interesting reading or viewing happens, some people quickly take out their camera phones and record, often without the permission of the subject.
They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words but sometimes someone may not understand what is happening in a picture or clip, and someone with ill intentions could insert a misleading caption to communicate falsehood.
Wherever you go – be it the office, school, church, business or politics – you always find people who delight in spreading mostly baseless information.  Some people find great delight in being the first ones to break some news, especially if it is bad news.
Repeating something that you have heard, without verifying and stating it as if it is a fact, can be considered as gossip.  Most people who spread malicious stories about others often times do not even think of the implications of their gossip.
Gossip has resulted in some people being fired from their jobs.  Gossip has many times led to divorce, fights and even death.  Some cases of gender-based violence that we learn about today are probably sparked off by gossip.
A person who is subject of gossip may be so ashamed of themselves to a point of getting suicidal. Gossiping about someone behind his or her back, especially when he or she is the subject of rampant rumours, can be irresistibly juicy. Unfortunately, it can seriously hurt someone’s feelings.
The American Psychological Association even believes that the stress caused by gossip can cause students to decline academically. Gossip is also a double-edged sword – as fun as it can be to gossip about other people. When we do so, we invite gossip about ourselves, which is rarely entertaining.
If you learn that someone has been spreading nasty rumours about you, your first action should be to consult with your close friends. These should be people you know and trust. Tell them the facts of the situation. If the rumour is not true, they will be sure to fight the spread of the rumour by shooting it down whenever they hear someone bring it up. If the rumour is true, they can still help stop its spread by sticking up for you and chastising people that spread it.
When I worked for Boart Longyear in Kitwe, our general manager, Jost Chabala, tried his best to stop gossip by making sure that if ever one went to report anyone else to him regarding information of a personal nature, he would pick up the phone, summon the subject to his office and then in the presence of the subject, ask the person who had made the report to repeat what he or she had said.
Management could also try and drive out gossip by sharing with employees all the important information about what is happening in the organisation, excluding, of course, information that could be of a strategic nature.
Management could also try and break down barriers between individuals and between departments and encourage teamwork.
More about this topic next week.

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