Backbiting backfires.

Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Personal Commentary:

Few things sow division and dissension more quickly than gossip. It disengages employees, divides teams, and destroys productivity.

In short, NOTHING good comes from gossip. And yet many organizations are so filled with gossip that some employees begin to see it as “normal and natural” and talk about it as though “that’s just the way things are around here.”

Other employees joke about gossip. One person said, “I never repeat gossip, so listen closely.” And Earl Wilson
said, “Gossip is hearing something you like about someone you don’t.”

I even tell people in my program, “The Partnership Payoff: The 7 Keys To Better Relationships and Greater Teamwork,” beavers multiply, and that leads to more dam headaches. And the same thing is true of gossip. It grows and multiplies.

So what can you do to create a gossip-free culture? That was the challenge one, young, 23-year-old man had to face when he landed his first job as the senior pastor of a church. After all, he was supposed to be the leader of a church that was filled with people who had children and grandchildren older than he was. Talk about intimidating and talk about a place ripe for gossip.

To survive and even thrive in that environment, the young man named Charles Christian drew up “10 Rules For Respect” and handed them out to everyone. He committed himself to a certain set of behaviors and expected the same thing from his people. Although I’ve modified Charles’ list, that was published in the “Leadership Journal,” the summer edition of 1999, I think that much of it still applies today.

For a gossip-free culture, a no backbiting work environment, I’ve learned that you must ask each and every person in the organization to pledge to a positive, professional code of communication guidelines. Here they are.

1. If you have a problem with me, come to me … privately.

Don’t talk to other people about my behavior or the “problem” I’ve become … before you talk to me. Don’t let me be the last one to know. I should never have to hear about your problem wth me from a second or third party.

And if the issue is a sensitive one, if you’re not sure how I will react to your information or instruction, if the discussion has the potential of becoming emotional, then for heaven’s sake, don’t do it through e-mail. Have enough guts to talk it over with me.

It’s okay to set up a time to talk via telephone. But once again, if at all possible do it in person, or least face to face (even if technology is involved), and do it privately.

2. If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you … privately.

I will talk TO you instead of ABOUT you. I’m aware of the danger of spreading my problem with you to too many people other people. After all, where two or three are gathered together, I know that murmuring manifests itself.

3. If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. (And I’ll do the same for you.)

Remember your rights. You have the right to remain silent … and probably should … until that other person and I’ve had a chance to talk. If you step in too quickly with your two-cents worth, you could make things worse.

Follow Rodney Dangerfield’s advice. In situations like this, Rodney said, “Always look out for #1 but don’t step in #2.”

4. If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go see him together. I am sure he will talk to us about this.” (And I will do the same for you.)

Of course confrontation is scary. Sometimes it’s easier if you go with a friend … who encourages you to share your feelings and observations … and who can keep the discussion on track.

Just remember, when you bring a friend, your friend comes as an encourager and discussion mediator, not as an ally who will help you gang up on me or anybody else. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. Your sharing is about caring … caring about the situation, caring about the people involved, and caring enough to make things better.

5. I will refrain from prejudging and stereotyping you. I will seek to understand you before I “interpret” you. (And I expect the same from you.)

First impressions are often lasting impressions. Unfortunately, they’re often wrong. They’re based on too little information and colored by our past experiences with other people we “presume” to be like them.

By contrast, in a healthy, positive, encouraging work place, people take time to really get to know one another.
Steve Goodier reported on that in his book “Your Life Support System.” He told the story of a particular department store where no one liked Laura. She was a snob who acted too good to socialize with the rest of the employees.

But one day Maude, who worked across from Laura, decided it was time for things to change. She figured she’d start by appealing to Laura’s vanity, and if she got through that, maybe the two of them could have a real conversation about something.

Maude approached Laura’s work station and said, “You know, whenever I glance up I see your head silhouetted against that window there behind you. I think you have the prettiest profile and hair that I have ever seen.” To Maude’s astonishment, Laura began to cry.

“That’s the first kind word anybody has ever said to me in all the years I’ve worked here,” Laura explained.

Maude felt awful and wasn’t sure what to say next. This wasn’t the response she’d prepared herself for. Laura wasn’t the snob everybody had said she was. She was terribly shy and afraid to speak to anyone first. The department had completely misjudged her all this time, and the gossip factory was filled with comments about Laura’s supposed snobbish, better-than-you mentality.

Somehow Maude managed to say the right thing that prompted Laura to continue talking. She and Laura became friends, which influenced the other workers to reach out to Laura as well. All the positive attention helped Laura step out of her shell, and for the first time people knew her for who she really was … instead of what the gossip said she was.

People aren’t always the way they seem. So refrain from prejudging them. Get to know them before you figure you’ve got them all figured out.

Look for the deeper meaning … as one child in Sunday School should have done. After he was told the story of David and Goliath, he was asked what the moral of the story was. He said, “Duck.”

6. I will not read unsigned letters or notes.

There is nothing to be gained by adding my fantasy and my imagination to your lack of courage and candor.

7. I will hold confidences confidential, and I will not listen to you share what someone else told you in confidence.

When you tell me something in confidence, you be can sure that your sharing will be held strictly confidential. I will not tell anyone what you told me unless (a) you are about to harm yourself, (b) you are about to physically harm someone else, or (c) a child has been physically or sexually abused. And I expect the same code of confidential conduct from you.

If someone comes to me and is about to tell me what someone else told them, I will first ask, “Has the other person given you permission to tell me this?” If the answer is “no,” I will politely decline the conversation. And I expect the same code of confidential conduct from you.

8. If I hear negative critical gossip about me, I will let it pass.

There are couple of Scriptural verses that say, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

That’s a radical philosophy … when everything inside you wants to get even with the person that hurt you or spoke badly about you. But if you were able to absorb the real meaning of those verses, you would learn to handle criticism, hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness with poise, power, and skill … without adding any gossip of your own. As the old Italian proverb teaches, if you scatter thorns, you can’t go barefoot.

One of my clients is a Wall Street brokerage firm, and one of the organization’s leaders told me how rough, tough, and competitive Wall Street can be. He said there is a great deal of tension much of the time, and under pressure, some people in his office lose their composure and begin criticizing each other or start gossiping about each other.

And yet this particular leader seemed to be composed and seldom if ever got drawn into the criticism and gossip. I asked him how he did it. He told me, “When I was younger, criticism would really get me down. I would take every cross word as a personal affront. Sometimes I would join in by returning criticism for criticism. At other times I just got plain angry.”

“Then I heard a preacher quote a phrase from Scripture, ‘and it came to pass.’ It occurred to me that this is what happens with criticism … that it comes and it passes … if I don’t feed upon it, add to it, and pass it on. That little phrase has become so important in my business dealings that I have it mounted on my office wall. It reminds me to keep my poise in the face of criticism.”

9. I will not put too much stock in the negativity of others.

By its very nature, most gossip is negative. In fact, some research indicates that bad news travels about five times faster than good news, and bad news is shared about five times more often than good news. And sadly enough, the negative gossip doesn’t even have to be true to travel fast and be shared frequently.

So for your own good and the good of your office, don’t put too much stock in the griping, whining, complaining, nay saying comments of others. Take a lesson from the little frog who climbed the tower.

You see, once upon a time there was a bunch of tiny frogs who arranged a competition. The goal was to reach the top of a very high tower. A big crowd gathered around the tower to see the race and cheer on the contestants.

The race began. But it didn’t take too long for some of the onlookers to say, “Oh, that’s way too difficult … They will NEVER make it to the top … There isn’t a chance they will succeed … and … The tower is too high!” The tiny frogs began collapsing … one by one. Except for a few who kept climbing.

The crowed continued to yell, “It is too difficult … No one will make it!” More and more frogs dropped out, and eventually they all gave up. All but one little frog who continued to climb higher and higher. He wouldn’t give up. And in the end he was the only one to reach the top.

Then all of the other frogs wanted to know how this one frog managed to go on. How did he do it? One contestant asked the tiny frog how he found the strength to succeed and reach the goal It turned out… that the winner was DEAF!!!. He couldn’t hear all the negative gossip from others, so it never slowed him down.

Quite simply, be careful about listening to other people’s negative or pessimistic tendencies…. because their negative gossip will kill your motivation and stamp out your dreams.

Hundreds, even thousands of years ago, a wise man wrote, “The tongue can bring death or life.” The words are still true today. Cut the gossip out of your workplace and watch it come alive.

Action:

Select 2 of the 9 guidelines that you will personally adopt and follow this week, next week, and the week after

that until you have truly mastered them. Then repeat the process with 2 more of the guidelines.
Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881
E-mail: Alan@DrZimmerman.com

“©2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Internet newsletter, the ‘Tuesday Tip.’ For your own personal, free subscription to the ‘Tuesday Tip’ as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman’s keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.

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