Did you know that there are two kinds of talk in an organization? One kind of talk is the kind that is needed to get things done. We call this “productive talk”. Productive talk is needed for people to know what they are working on and why, understand what they need to do and handle, see how it is to be done, and learn what resources are available. Without productive talk, it would be impossible to get things done in an organization.
A second kind of talk is what we call “unproductive talk”. Unproductive talk is the social sharing we tend to do with each other, such as “how is the weather”, “where are you going on vacation”, or “who won the game?”. Unproductive talk is a very important way for people to experience being related to each other. But there are some types of unproductive talk that can have a negative impact on getting things done. We identify three types of unproductive talk: blaming, gossiping, and complaining. The most damaging is gossip.
Gossip is defined as “talking about someone behind their back in a way that does damage to them or their reputation.” When we talk about someone in a way that has other people think less of them, or have a negative opinion of them, or have less affinity toward them, we have gossiped. When we say things about another that we would not say if they were present, that’s gossip.
Gossip, along with blaming and complaining, is a key contributor to poor morale in organizations. People who are interested in being productive in their organization know that some types of unproductive talk are not your friend, as shown by this poem from The Wall Street Journal:
My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice.
I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.
My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me, because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody’s friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
I topple governments and wreck marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartaches and indigestion.
I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip, I make headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself:
Is it true? Is it harmless? Is it necessary?
If it isn’t, don’t repeat it.