Jonathan Haidt, author of A Righteous Mind, says that gossip has helped the species survive by keeping cheaters in line. Gossip is a deterrent to bad behavior and warns the unaware. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty about spreading a little delicious news around the office, right?
I’m not so sure.
This argument makes perfect sense on one level. But on another, gossip can also create such a toxic environment that it can affect job satisfaction, employee retention and even the bottom line.
Imagine this scenario. Suri complains about Ali to Tony. Tony then complains to three more people about Ali, who complains to his own team. Next, you have the Suri/Tony camp at war against Ali’s camp. Bad feelings grow and behavior deteriorates, even to the point of obstructionism and maybe even sabotage. In other words, though neither side is likely to see their own role in this dynamic, both are guilty of bad behavior. The gossip has fueled the behavior, rather than keeping it in check.
So next time you feel the need to gossip, think about how you might be fueling a political downward spiral that will likely affect you and how you feel about your workplace, either directly and/or indirectly. Also consider how you’re spending your time, which your employer is paying you to help the company be successful.
The more justified you feel in participating in toxic office politics, the more likely you should examine your own behavior. Remember the concept of projection: that behavior you dislike in others is actually a quality in yourself that you hate. When I’m honest with myself, my hypocrisy becomes self-evident, which takes the steam out of my indignation. In its place emerges an opportunity for compassion, peace, and constructive problem-solving. How about spreading that?