“Denying is not going to do anything for you, and defending isn’t going to help either”
Gossip can disrupt a workplace dynamic, whether it’s in the West Wing or at the watercooler. Just ask Rex Tillerson.
The secretary of state, after NBC News reported he’d called President Trump a “moron” over the summer, insisted his boss was “smart” and denied he had weighed leaving his cabinet post — but sidestepped denying the actual insult. Trump tweeted his approval of Tillerson’s public affirmation: “The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews.”
Trash talk also came back to bite 33-year-old Summer Lennox, a New Zealander who four years ago worked as a supervisor at a pharmaceutical company. “There were a few technicians on my shift that were difficult to build rapport with, but I knew they disliked my manager due to historical personality conflicts,” she told Moneyish in an email. Since she wasn’t a fan herself, she “sought buy-in” from her reports by discussing their shared views.
“I did not go out of my way to hide my displeasure with my manager, and unsurprisingly in a plant of 1,400 people, my disrespectful attitude found its way back to his ears,” Lennox said.
After the supervisor “passive aggressively” told Lennox he’d heard rumors of her comments, she owned up. “I apologized for not talking to him directly, but (said) I did often feel undermined by his management approach.” Things seemed fine after that, but she later learned the supervisor had played her technicians against one another to inquire about her potential misdeeds. He ultimately got her suspended and removed from the position over an unrelated incident.
“Do not say anything you do not want repeated. People talk, even when you think you can trust them,” Lennox advised. “Secondly, never bad-mouth leadership. Whether you agree with their approach or not, below-the-line comments will never serve to make you look better, it only paints a target on your back.”
The best approach after being outed as a gossip starts with owning up, says Jodi Glickman, CEO of the leadership development firm Great on the Job.
“If you’re caught red handed, denying is not going to do anything for you, and defending isn’t going to help either,” Glickman told Moneyish. “The truth is, if you are caught talking about someone behind their back in a negative way, there really is no excuse — because if you have a beef with someone, you should take it to them before you talk about it with someone else.”
The only path ahead, Glickman added, is to acknowledge your comments were “inappropriate, unintentional or misguided — and then commit that you will not do that again.” Explain that you had a lapse in judgment or heat-of-the-moment indiscretion, apologize and say you’ll approach them directly if there is ever another issue.
That advice applies regardless of stature, she said. “It’s no less incriminating to talk about someone who’s junior to you than to talk about someone who’s senior to you,” Glickman said. “I think that you have to take the high road no matter who you’re speaking with.”
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