Who did what to whom? How did she get into trouble? Why did he miss the project deadline? If workplace gossip a part of your office, it’s hurting you and your work environment.

Whether it’s at the water cooler, in the bathroom, or via a corporate instant messaging system, office gossip has become a common part of the 21st century workplace. As opposed to dealing with complaints and upsets about people directly with them, gossip is defined as “making a derogatory statement about someone to a third person where the opinion of that person is diminished in the eyes of the third person.”

Besides the obvious problems with such comments, gossip also has many other harmful effects, which is why managers and bosses are trying to replace the sneaky whispers with open, honest communication.
“People have an amazing ability to be productive and creative, but not in the presence of gossip,” said Scott Hunter, author of Making Work Work. “When gossip infects the workplace, people shift their focus to what’s wrong and what isn’t working, rather than on what’s possible.”

After more than two decades consulting for businesses like Coldwell Banker, Pepsi-Cola, and IBM, Hunter has found there are many consequences when gossip takes over an organization. These consequences result in some serious costs that can be detrimental to any work environment.
When gossip is present, “there’s no communication, no understanding, no appreciation of the other person’s position, no intimacy, and certainly no trust,” said Hunter. “These consequences cost an organization more than just happiness within the workplace. Gossip causes turnover and costs productivity, creativity, teamwork, enthusiasm, success, and, ultimately, relationships. All of which can be irreversible problems if left to grow and spread within a company.”

How to Eliminate Office Gossip
The key is not to suppress gossip or for people to bite their tongues, but rather for people to communicate their upsets and disappointments in an appropriate manner so progress can be made. Open, honest communication is one of the most important keys to building lasting relationships between co-workers and keeping gossip from invading the workplace.

Here are six of Hunter’s top workplace communication skills:
• Don’t take another’s comments personally.
• Listen with compassion.
• Give up the need to be right.
• Look for the best in people.
• Acknowledge people.
• Communicate upsets.

Communication, however, means nothing if no one is listening. That’s why knowing how to listen effectively also is a very vital part of building relationships and squashing office gossip. Hunter said, “The question isn’t whether we’re listening when someone speaks to us; rather, it’s a question of how we’re listening.”

Just hearing someone’s speech and occasionally replying with a “yes” and “uh-huh,” isn’t effective listening. Hunter recommended a new way of listening where you’re conscious of what you’re listening to, you’re committed and involved in the conversation, and you’re placing your attention on the other person. This is opposed to having your attention on yourself and only paying attention to what you’re thinking about what they’re saying. Doing this makes the interaction a source of real communication and a place to begin building relationships.

With open communication and more attentive listening, the need to gossip about what’s wrong will be unnecessary, and a place to begin talking about what’s possible will be created. IBI