Gossip. It’s a nasty habit and hard to break.
I can say with near certainty that we’ve all found ourselves on the receiving end of the phrase “Don’t tell so-and-so I said this.”
Engaging in snark talk or spreading rumors are some of the most common faux pas in business diplomacy. And yet no other habit will put your reputation more at risk than gossiping.
Why? Because despite our seemingly harmless intentions, it can destroy relationships. Not only your relationship with the person you’re gossiping about, but also the relationship with the person you’re gossiping to.
It doesn’t start out that way. In fact, it feels like venting or processing: providing useful information to another person. For example, your conversation might sound something like this:
“Roger’s a great guy, but he’s a bit of a slacker. I mean, the last time he met a deadline the Beatles had a top-10 record. I’m only telling you this so you can help me save the account. We’ve worked very hard and now he may ruin it all. But don’t tell Roger I said so. It would only hurt his feelings.”
Comments like these place an unfair burden on the recipient, particularly when the information is of a personal nature. And the person you’re gossiping with will know that they can’t trust you not to talk about them behind their back.
Fortunately, there are better communication techniques to use than gossip when negative information needs to be shared:
- Always assume the person you’re talking about is in the conversation with you…that they will hear you. That way you’ll naturally be more diplomatic. So, a comment such as “He’s completely incompetent” becomes “I have concerns about his performance.”
- Speak the truth, but do it considerately and objectively. There are always two sides to the story. If you omit your opponent’s point of view, you make him or her the underdog and listeners will automatically align their sympathies with the underdog.
- Don’t say anything that would damage a person’s morale or self-worth.
After you’ve used these techniques to neutralize your comments, here’s what to say to ensure confidentiality—and to keep your reputation in tact: “Out of respect for Roger, I plan to meet with him to address the issue directly. Therefore, I ask you to hold off on sharing this information with anyone else.”
You’ve now made the listener a partner in an honorable process—and a confidante.
Before you act . . .
Situations will inevitably arise that require talking about people behind their backs. But, whenever possible, preserve everyone’s dignity by conducting face-to-face conversations—and cut the gossip out of your life.