The root of many workplace problems can be traced to a lack of communication or misperceptions that result from ineffective communication. In my coaching practice, workers often tell me they are reluctant to speak up candidly with one another about their concerns or what’s up for them. They fear office politics, losing a job, angering someone or retribution. Many also simply lack the skills to address difficult conversations directly. Unfortunately what many do instead is gossip and “triangle” in a third person (thereby avoiding talking to the offending person directly).
It’s easy to get sucked unconsciously into negative workplace energy. A colleague vents about someone else and pretty soon you find yourself nodding your head in agreement about how “so and so” is lousy at something. Bad feelings get shared, absorbed and co-workers develop negative perceptions about those they need to count on.
To a degree, it is human nature to complain. Yet, gossiping about others when they aren’t present damages trust, respect, morale and relationships. We pay a high price for the gossip or “triangle” approach. Most importantly, the issues don’t get resolved, particularly if the offending party is left in the dark. Additionally, gossip is toxic to workplace morale, camaraderie and team. It often spirals out of control leaving a wake of negativity, suspicion, resentment and broken communication. Team collaboration, creativity and productivity suffer because a lack of trust impedes healthy debate and open dialogue.
My mission is to get people talking to each other and not about each other. Here are my coach’s tips:
- Notice your energy the next time you are engaged in a negative complaining or gossip conversation about someone else. Odds are you will notice a drop in your energy and enthusiasm. You may even note a weight on your shoulders that now burdens your body, emotions and mind. How is this serving you?
- Are you unconsciously or automatically looking at situations and people with a “critical” eye? Challenge yourself to use an “appreciative” eye and look for what’s right about others vs. looking for what’s wrong on auto pilot.
- If you are feeling angry, identify and own your “judgments” and then identify what you are needing/wanting that you aren’t getting. Do you have a need for more information, inclusion, equality or respect? Express your feelings and unmet needs to the other.
- Be authentic. Say what is true for you while being conscious of respectful delivery of the information. Ask for what you need to be successful with a workplace task or role.
- Hold interpersonal judgments lightly and consider that you may have the information wrong. Test your perceptions.
- Discourage coworkers from gossiping. Either change the subject or refuse to take part in a conversation about someone when they aren’t present.
- Take stock of the facts before you automatically become the judge and jury of a coworker. We humans are remarkably adept at making up stories and meaning to situations we don’t fully understand. We frequently leap to conclusions often with little or no data. Check and verify your perceptions before taking action that might result in harmful consequences.
- Be intentional about how you speak about others when they aren’t present. Ask yourself how what you will say may serve either you or others?
- If something is bothering you or there has been a missed expectation, take it up with the person directly. This takes courage and as long as the delivery of the message is handled with care and intention, most often the relationship will be improved.
- Prepare for difficult workplace conversations. Begin with the end in mind—where do you want to end up as a result of this conversation? How can you deliver the message in a way that the other person can hear?