How to change gossip mongers into positive communicators

How to change gossip mongers into positive communicators

Gossip is good, up to a point, which is why the CEO of Red Hat, Jim Whitehurst, actively encourages it at his firm.

“Rule of thumb when it comes to office gossip: If you have more truth telling at the water cooler than in meetings, you've got a problem,” he explains in an interview with Business Insider.

“You want to get to a place where people feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions about a situation, beyond the water cooler.”

But there comes a point where it gets too much. It was named as a top productivity killer in research by Harris Poll, commissioned by CareerBuilder, earlier this year, and was also named as a sign of a terrible employee in a list compiled by Business Insider and credited to Lynn Taylor, author of ‘Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your job’, The Workplace Therapist, and US News & World Report.

Speaking to HR Grapevine, Eliza Rawlings, Managing Director of Festo Training & Consulting, gave her tips on how to transform gossipers into positive communicators.

“Look around every organisation and it’s pretty easy to identify the gossip mongers,” she tells us. “They are often disaffected, frequently cynical and sometimes outright saboteurs. What they all have in common is a lack of trust and high levels of disengagement.”

But what if you flipped them, if you could use their proactivity, their networks, and connections to communicate effectively?

She gave her tips, listed below, on how to do this.

Identify them early on

Not all people who gossip will be effective communicators. Look for those who might have become recently disaffected but are still aligned with the goals of the organisation. Who are proactive but not disruptive. Who people respect and will listen to.”

Try them out on a project

Identify a self-contained project and invite them onto the steering committee. Give them the vision for what it is you want to achieve and create and explain their role in it.”

Don’t try to convert them

If they are already sceptical, they will be extremely cautious. Just keep it simple and ask for their opinions. Ask them to talk to their peers and colleagues and find out what the thinking is in the organisation. Get that network working for your benefit.”

Listen openly

You’ve asked for opinions. Now it’s time to listen to what they say. This can sometimes be difficult and often very uncomfortable. Listen with an open heart. Really understand what people are saying.”  

Act on feedback

We are judged more on our actions than on our words. Show that you’ve understood. Let people know what you’re going to do to address their concerns. Then do it.”  

Constant communication 

You’ve now begun a communication cycle using your disaffected employee. Don’t stop. Your gossip monger will start to feel part of something. The power that they had before can now be beneficial. They have become a communication channel. [If] you’re listening, they’ll keep feeding back and it won’t be long before they start communicating positive messages out. That’s when you know you’ve changed them, when the grapevine [bears] fruit.”  

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