Thursday Buzz: The Problem With Office Gossip

Why back-channel complaining about coworkers is toxic—and why fixing it rests on not only your culture, but the people in your office. Also: what makes the Drupal Association really tick.

You know the toxicity when you hear it.

The griping. The complaining. The veiled (or not-so-veiled) criticism of a coworker. Given too much breathing room, it can severely damage your work environment. So, how do you stop it?

At the organizational level, says consultant and speaker Joe Gerstandt, we need to create a culture that discourages such backbiting. And that goes beyond the office.

“The first responsibility is on the organization, with special emphasis on management for making it safe to speak up, for making it safe to surface contradictions, ask questions, and challenge decisions as long as it is done respectfully,” he writes. “But there also has to be responsibility on the part of employees, to talk to each other, not about each other.”

Gerstandt’s stance on how he’d ideally punish the behavior may seem a little extreme: He bluntly says that were he the boss, he’d make back-channel complaining a fireable offense. But his overall point is sound.

“We make it far too easy for competent adults to walk away from each other, and in doing so we just invite more drama,” he writes.

How would you solve this problem in your office?

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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