Dear June, How can I stop office gossip?
By June O'Connor
I recently began a new administrative job. The people are very nice, but there is an undercurrent of competition and rumor in the office — some is relevant, but some is mere gossip. As director, how do I maintain a friendly, open-door policy without contributing to or encouraging the rumor mill?
You demonstrate a clear grasp of the dilemma you face in this new setting with new responsibilities and new work associates. One way to maintain a friendly, open-door policy without getting drawn into things unnecessarily or unwisely, I think, is to find ways to show people: 1) that you are a good listener (by listening very well), and 2) that you are skillful at discerning which aspects of a given conversation are useful to you in your job.
After all, you are not fostering a friendship with colleagues, not encouraging the exchange of confidential information, not inviting everyone’s frustrations with one another to be voiced. One of the tasks in life is for each of us to learn to live with difference, particularly with different personality styles. Not all conflicts can be solved; some must be lived with as creatively and generously as possible. And some folks learn this later than others. Your voice might be needed to foster the process.You can do this by summarizing your conversation, identifying the relevant details, and separating them from those that are not germane to the business at hand.
In other words, share your process of discernment with the other person. In this way, he or she will recognize that not everything voiced is necessary for you to hear, nor particularly welcome.
Some of the details reported to you (such as so-and-so’s behavior at meetings) can be observed. The conversation you’ve had may indeed be useful insofar as it alerts you to office matters that need attention, followed by requested change, encouragement, or redirection. Some of the other details reported to you most likely are hearsay, matters that cannot be observed or otherwise verified by you. Notice the difference between these two types of details, and let your colleagues listen to you as you separate observable data that you will pay attention to in the future from claims that are non-observable and therefore about which you can take no action.
These discriminating observations will make it clear that not everything they think important and worthy of immediate action or comment will be received as such. At the same time, your summary statement will gratify them that they have been heard, even as it identifies limits to the value of some of their comments. In sum, you will be appreciated as a good listener and will at the same time show yourself to be a fair and even-handed leader. CD
Quote: "Not all conflicts can be solved; some must be lived with as creatively and generously as possible."