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Gossip in the Workplace Kills Organizational Culture

gossip in the workplaceI had a colleague at my last job who was a peer and a friend. We were at a similar level and would periodically sit in one of our offices, with the door closed, talking about the bad decisions our company’s senior leaders made. One day I realized that these conversations were exhausting to me. They were negative and didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they made me feel worse.

Some people distinguish between gossip and venting, asserting that venting is cathartic and makes people feel better. It doesn’t.

I’ll use an analogy I read in one of Deepak Chopra’s books. When you put a plant in the closet and don’t give it light or water, it withers and dies. When you put a plant in the sunlight and water it, it grows. And the same is true for people. Whatever you give attention will proliferate. Whatever you deprive attention will go away.

Your life is made up of the people you spend time with and what you talk about. What are you talking about?

In addition to draining you of energy and ensuring you focus on the things that frustrate you, gossip in the workplace kills the organization’s culture. If employees can’t trust that their peers won’t talk about them when they’re not there, there is no trust in the organization. And you can’t have real relationships without trust.

Gossip isn’t going anywhere. It’s a human phenomenon and is here to stay. But you can reduce gossip.

A few ways to reduce the gossip in the workplace:

  1. Address the gossip head on.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of gossip, which is not good for our culture.”

  1. Hold regular town hall meetings, and give employees information about initiatives, organizational changes, profitability, etc. Employees want to know how the company is really doing and what they can do to contribute.
  2. Create a no gossip in the workplace policy.

“We want people talking directly to each other, rather than about each other. As a result, we’re putting a no gossip policy in place.”

  1. Draw attention to gossip.

“Every time you hear gossip, wave two fingers in the air.” This will draw attention to the gossip in the workplace without calling anyone out.

Also, ask your peers and friends not to gossip with you. End conversations that contain gossip. This will be hard to do, but if everyone does it, it will become much easier.

  1. Have an agreed-upon consequence for gossip.

“Every time we hear gossip in the workplace, the gossiper owes a dollar. Every quarter the gossipers will buy the office lunch from the gossip jar.”

The keys to reducing gossip in your office are to draw attention to the gossip, have a consequence for gossiping, and over communicate so your employees don’t have to make stuff up. Employees want to know what’s happening in the organization. In the absence of knowledge, people make stuff up, and it’s never good.

Venting and gossip are the same. Unless you’re planning a conversation with a coworker or friend to address a challenge or problem, you’re gossiping. And talking about what frustrates you will only make you more frustrated.

My advice:  Do something about the things you can impact and let the other stuff go. Talk about the things that matter to you. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about the people around you. And know that anyone who will gossip about someone to you, will also gossip about you.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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One Response to “Gossip in the Workplace Kills Organizational Culture”

  1. Nichole Sterling says:

    Ah – the venting vs. gossip dilemma. Gossip is noxious – absolutely and venting can often be the pathway to gossip. However, I don’t necessarily believe that venting should be removed from our tool box. Just as there is “positive gossiping” there is also “responsible venting.” We just need a reframe of venting. Venting comes from a natural, biological anger response – the chemicals and the energy have grown and there needs to be a release – but, again through channels of responsible venting – both physical (e.g., take a walk) and mental (e.g., I’m really frustrated because my sense of stability is being compromised). Furthermore, you may be one of those folks who should get their words straight before going to talk to the person – in other words venting helps organize thoughts, release the emotion, articulate your needs. But, what’s my job as the person listening to you vent? – #1. Ask you what you are going to do about it – because I’m not the one who you have the problem with and ultimately can’t solve it for you and #2. Hold you to your commitment or solution to approaching the other person. Candid Cultures ROCK!

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