Two people who are gossiping in the workplaceOne of the persistent issues in almost any workplace with more than a few employees is that of office chatter, which is a nice way of saying gossip! There probably isn’t a person who would say that they support office gossip as good for the workplace, and there probably isn’t a person who hasn’t engaged in it! From a Navigating Emotional Realities with Adults perspective, what’s it all about, and is there anything we can do about it? Below are some quick thoughts.

Neurologically, our brains are wired to prioritize safety and belonging. One of the conditions that threatens both is that of social isolation. A big predictor of job satisfaction is the presence of a good friend or group of friends at work. We want to fit in with the people we work with and feel emotionally safe with them. But sometimes there is conflict at work (imagine!).

If I have a conflict with a coworker or supervisor, my brain perceives that as a safety issue related to rejection and abandonment. I suddenly feel very isolated. To mediate that feeling, I may quickly go to a coworker or two who I believe share my opinions about “that idiot” who just triggered my fear of isolation. (Neurologically speaking, this often happens at a subconscious level.) As I share my frustration with my coworker, she may well nod in agreement, affirming my right to be frustrated and nurturing my sense of belonging—we are in this together! On the surface, this seems to be okay and to make sense. And it really does soothe me for the moment.

Here’s the problem. As groups of likeminded people begin to have ongoing conversations about other individuals and groups with whom they are not so likeminded, we actually create divisions that perpetuate and even increase a general workplace culture that is not emotionally safe. In other words, gossip is a short-term comfort for me, and it can actually contribute to making the very thing that I am trying to get away from worse!

Addressing gossip in the workplace as something more than a discipline issue can be helpful. Developing communication based on respect rather than authority is something for supervisors to consider.

But first, it starts with me. If I want an emotionally safer and more satisfying workplace culture, I need to look at how my own desire of safety and belonging is being expressed in my participation in workplace gossip. By becoming self-aware of my own story and motivation, I can become a better contributor to positive stories for my coworkers, family, and friends.

The book Navigating Emotional Realities with Adults goes into more detail on how to better understand our own stories and the stories of others. Pick up a copy, sign up for an upcoming virtual workshop, or consider hosting a workshop at your place of work. I would love to work with you!