Office Gossip: How to stop it from spreading, and look good in the process.

I was recently asked by a very observant colleague “How do you handle gossip in the workplace?”  She was growing increasingly frustrated and demoralized whenever she participated in meetings or discussions where others began to gossip about other coworkers, colleagues and managers – not even executives were spared the verbal lashing!

The most frustrating part for her is perhaps knowing that when she was absent from these calls or meetings, she was the victim of their verbal onslaught.  After all, “if it’s being said about someone else, it’s probably being said about you”.

I’m sure everyone has dealt with this at some point during their career; some may have even participated in it so it’s fair to say that regardless of what we do people will not stop gossiping.

This doesn’t mean that we should become hopeless, give up and accept this reality.  At the same time, I am not so naive as to suggest that you should disengage from every discussion that includes some form of gossip because 1) this will not stop gossip from happening, and 2) it will quickly alienate you from your colleagues and will only promote this habit from happening behind your back. 

Instead when you hear your colleague(s) gossip about someone in the office, try to balance the discussion by pointing out something positive about that individual.  For example, if you heard your colleagues complain about Susan and how she’s perpetually late getting to the office, you might want to say “Yea, I definitely noticed that but I know that Susan drives her kids to school in the morning and commutes in to work, she’s also in the office very late after everyone’s left for the day.” 

By saying that, you’ve acknowledged the reason of their gossip (Susan being late) but you’ve countered with a comment that perhaps makes it harder for them to continue gossiping about Susan’s lateness. 

But let’s be fair, some times we may not have anything substantial to defend our colleagues with, we may not know enough about them or we may find that the gossip has some sort of merit.  In this scenario I would acknowledge that the behavior is “out of character” and that perhaps “they are experiencing some difficulties lately”.  This comment essentially says “I know my colleague did something to cause some frustration or anger or disappointment, but I am not ready to write them off and discount their character just yet.” 

Remember that it is never beneficial to engage in gossip no matter how justified you maybe, it may endear you to a certain group of people, it may even help you vent but it doesn’t solve the problem and in doing so you are always chipping away at your own character.  In the end you have the choice to raise the moral standard of those around you or to go with the flow hoping that one day you are not the target.

The Art of Escalations: Knowing when pull the trigger and how…

Believe it or not, we have been escalating since the age of 4-5 and surprisingly we haven’t become good at it over time, in fact we haven’t changed much since the good ole’ “MOM! DAD! Bobby hit me!!” days.

We learned to escalate when we realized that involving someone else into our problems will result in action far greater than any we ourselves could exert or apply.

This worked for us as kids because it played out as a defense mechanism “I’m gonna tell mom if you hurt me” or a threat mechanism “If you do that I’m gonna tell dad”.

Surprisingly not much as changed as we grew older and moved into the workforce except for added subtlety and sexy business lingo.  Perhaps you have come across this defense mechanism at work “If we have to take on any additional work we’ll have to have a discussion with [insert manager’s name]” or perhaps you’ve heard this threat mechanism “[insert manager’s name] has committed to this being done by end of day, if its not we’ll have to take it up with although I’m sure he’s not going to be happy”.

We have almost conditioned ourselves to think of escalations as a win-lose scenario!

But when you’re running projects and trying to influence positive change – whether at work or otherwise – a win-lose scenario can only get you so far without adding some resentment and friction to the relationship.

The key to escalating without implying a win-lose scenario is to level-set up-front the reasons and benefits of escalating.  For example:

  1. Escalations are meant to move us forward as a team
  2. We always escalate issues NOT people
  3. We, collectively, will make a decision to escalate to ensure we’re all in agreement
  4. Escalations are a last resort after we have exhausted other options within our control

Simple, right?

One of the biggest traps that we fall into is inconsistency.  What we escalate today may not be what we escalate tomorrow, and unfortunately the speed with which we escalate may depend on WHO we’re working with.  Another common pitfall is NOT communicating (to your team) your intention to escalate and that can catch them by surprise and further fuel an us vs. him/her mentality.

By doing this, we lose credibility among our peers when we escalate, even if we’re right in escalating.  When you realize this, you need to pull yourself out of that trap and re-focus on the issues and facts.

Stay consistent and always ask yourself tough questions “Would I escalate this issue if my friend was working on it?” or “Would I escalate this issue if I had a different manager”,  “Why am I escalating this now?” and most importantly “have I explained to my team the need behind this escalation and my intention in doing so?”

The answers to those questions should give you some insight into whether this escalation will result in a win-lose or a win-win scenario.

After all, that dorky tattletale kid may have been right but he always ate lunch alone.

Problems are always resolved, people’s feelings on the other hand…

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou

A really good example of this (assuming you’ve been out of school longer than Justin Bieber’s singing career) is to recall your favourite teacher in school or university.  Now hold on to that name for a second, try to recall why that teacher was your favourite?  What exactly did they do? What did they say? Can you remember the situation? Can you remember something they said to you?

For many of us, our memory would only serve us as far the name is concerned.  That’s not to say we have poor memory but it’s a strong indicator that our feelings are hardcoded in our memory.  We remember good and bad.  We may not remember why and quiet frankly that may not be important.

When you begin to realize this, it starts to have a profound effect on the way you deal with others – and believe me I haven’t mastered this, I’m very much still learning!

In today’s corporate culture of high delivery, fast pace, ultra commitments and perhaps careers “on the line” it’s easy to get worked-up over the problems we face day-to-day.  We’re easily overcome with anger, frustration, and a mis-placed feeling of wanting someone to blame.

When that happens….Pause.

Keep saying to yourself “my problem will be resolved”

You may not know at that moment how or by whom, in fact, you may not even have control over that other than taking the appropriate measures and steps to resolve it.

What you can control however, is how you treat people when this happens!  Because everyone you’re working with will not remember this situation or this problem 4 or 5 or even 1 year down the line but they will remember how you made them feel when it happened.

Stay Calm, Cool and Composed.

The key is to control your emotions rather than having them control you.

You maybe accountable for delivery, but you are also accountable for how you behave and work with others and if you have a short fuse you’ll quickly find that not many people will want to be around you to solve the next problem that occurs.