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The Insidiousness of Workplace Gossip

Leadership Culture 

Posted on May 7, 2009 by Blake Leath

Workplaces are grapevines; that's just the way it is.  Sadly, there are too few exceptions to the hypothesis that, "Where there are three, there gossip be."

Turn on practically any TV channel or Radio station: innuendo, rumor, speculation, gossip.

See countless Websites...

Countless News programs...

Countless 'Reality' programs...

My feeble Blog entry for today won't do one iota to stop gossip from metastasizing, but if it underscores the importance of not gossiping, abiding gossip, or feeding the gossip machine for even 'one day,' all the better.  A chain only works when each link does its part.  By refusing to engage or tolerate gossip in your workplace, you not only differentiate what IS and IS NOT appropriate, productive, and right, but you sometimes preserve a person's reputation.

And THAT is something which, once tarnished, dented, or broken, suffers from Humpty Dumpty Syndrome:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses,
And all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

In Doubt, the haunting play and film by John Patrick Shanley, there is a wonderful sermon delivered by the character Father Flynn.  I will close with it, as it so powerfully captures the viral and infectious nature of gossip:

A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew - I know none of you have ever done this - that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.

‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?’

(Irish Brogue)
‘Yes!’ Father O’Rourke answered her. ‘Yes! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!’

So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.

‘Not so fast!’ says O’Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!’

So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.

‘Did you gut the pillow with the knife?’ he says.

‘Yes, Father.’

‘And what was the result?’

‘Feathers,’ she said.

‘Feathers?’ he repeated.

‘Feathers everywhere, Father!’

‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’

‘And that,’ said Father O’Rourke, ‘is GOSSIP!’