Gossip may be easily overlooked as a little harmless entertainment, but the consequences can be far-reaching. It destroys both trust and credibility for the person spreading gossip. When family, friends or team members do not feel safe to speak openly it stifles creativity and collaboration and undermines morale. It is very difficult to rebuild trust once it has come to light those rumors have been spread. Ultimately it can also destroy friendships and careers if you get a reputation for spreading rumors and that you cannot be trusted with confidential information.

You can set the tone in a relationship or organization by never spreading gossip yourself. In order to avoid fear-based gossip or gossip based on a lack of information you should be transparent and share critical information as soon as it becomes available. If information is not yet available, share what is available and updates as possible. Be open to questions and feedback, which can help to create a culture of trust and safety.

When you become aware that a friend or team member has been spreading gossip, it should be addressed immediately. Be clear and firm, indicating that gossip will not be tolerated.

It is also helpful to create a culture of spreading positive “gossip.” This is a practice of intentionally sharing positive stories about family, friends, team members and the great things they have been doing. This can be a regular practice. The key is that it should happen regularly to become habit and engrained. This helps people feel seen and appreciated and has the secondary effect of strengthening a supportive friendship.

There are also strategies to protect yourself from being linked to gossip. First, never share private information with anyone unless you trust them implicitly. If you observe any signs that gossip is about to be shared with you, like being sworn to secrecy, a switch to hushed tones or closing a door, make it clear that you are not comfortable speaking about another person. You can also simply change the topic quickly before anything is shared or excuse yourself and leave. If you do become aware of sensitive information, simply keep it to yourself and resist the temptation to share with others.

Siquilla Liebetrau is the clinical director at the Bowen Center.

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