Welcome back to my series on Conscious Leadership! In this series, I’m going to summarize some key principles from a book I read earlier this year: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp. With this series, I hope to shed some light on the fast moving trend that is Conscious Leadership, and explain why you should consider integrating these 15 commitments into your existing leadership style or lifestyle, in general.

Here, in Part 6 of the series, we are going to take a look at the fifth Commitment of Conscious Leadership: Eliminating Gossip.

COMMITMENT FIVE: Eliminating Gossip

In Part 1 of this series we described the notion of Leading Above the Line or Leading Below the Line. The simple question leaders can ask themselves to determine how Consciously they are Leading is “am I leading below the line or above the line?

For Commitment # 5: Eliminating Gossip, the difference between leading above the line versus leading below the line is as follows:

Above the Line: I commit to ending gossip, talking directly to those whom I have a concern with, and encouraging others to talk directly to those they have a concern with.

Below the Line: I commit to saying things about people that I would not say to them or with them around. I commit to listening to other people’s gossip.

What’s so bad about gossip?

Gossip–We are all familiar with it. Every organization we are a part of seems to be infiltrated by it, no matter how enjoyable, happy, or stable that organization may seem. But just because gossip is commonplace doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be seen as a red flag that your organization is not the healthiest it could be. Gossip is a huge sign that employees are not expressing themselves authentically, and are wasting a lot of their energy on stories about others instead of focusing on advancing the organization and creating win/win situations.

Imagine for just one moment what your organization would be like without gossip. Would issues not get resolved faster? Would you feel like you could trust everyone more? Imagine the solutions and creativity that would be occurring with all of that gossip time credited back to you, similar to when we set the clocks backward and add an extra hour of precious sunlight to our day.

Once we realize that gossip is not a good way to deal with our feelings, we can learn how to express ourselves in a healthy way, by telling the truth and also taking the time to process and understand our thoughts and emotions in the first place.

An important note to make here is that listeners of gossip are equally as responsible as the speakers of gossip. The gossip would not be expressed if there wasn’t anyone to listen. So if you’re the type to enjoy the tea, even if you aren’t the one spilling it, you still have some work to do.

Why do we gossip?

There are many reasons why humans gossip, all of which provide us with some “benefit” which motivates us to continue to follow the pattern. Here are a few of these reasons:

  1. Avoiding Conflict – Out of fear that direct confrontation would cause problems, a person may just vent their frustrations to a third party rather than bring them to the person whom it concerns.
  2. Diverting or Gaining Attention – Having the latest gossip is a great way to feel important and have “all eyes on you”. Gossip is also a great way to re-direct attention away from you. This is similar to what we all did as children when we were in trouble..”But Johnny hit me first!”
  3. Controlling Others – This involves pushing our beliefs onto others and using gossip to manipulate others to hold our same judgements.
  4. Gaining Validation – This comes from our illusion that everything is either right or wrong. Gossiping can validate our righteous opinions and keep us believing we are in the “right”.
  5. One-Upmanship – The technique or practice of gaining a feeling of superiority over another person. Some people gossip to achieve this sensation.

How to identify gossip

Now of course there are appropriate situations in which you would want to withhold from saying what is on your mind. Thus, the determination of what is or is not gossip can be tricky. Here is a quick way to identify if what you are about to say is considered gossip. Try to ask yourself these two questions before speaking:

  1. Is there negative intent? If so, stop.
  2. Would you speak this directly to the person? If no, stop.

There are of course exceptions to this, such as talking to your spouse about how to handle a difficult situation with your children or discussing development of employees with your manager.

How to resolve gossip

The main way to clean up gossip is to reveal to those whom you have been gossiping about. The way to do this is to speak directly with this person instead of gossiping about them. To do so, it is first important to separate story from fact. Facts are objective data and inarguable. Stories are interpretations of the facts and are arguable statements.

Below are some examples of the difference between stories and facts.

Fact
Story
I got a bonusI am one of the best employees on the team and the company thinks I am doing an excellent job
My boss raised his voice around meMy boss has is angry with me
Sales are down 50%The sales team is not working hard enough

Many people mistakenly cling to their story as truth, when in fact it is simply the way we see the world. Different people’s stories differ, while the actual facts will always remain the same. To eliminate gossip, we need to ensure all facts are on the table and also encourage the telling of our stories. We want to create an environment that accepts that stories are made up and that they are not true, while also valuing these stories as important because they can serve to show both parties that they are equally responsible for the situation and come to a resolution.

Once you understand the distinction between stories and facts, you can discuss both the facts and the story you made up with that person, which opens your business relationship up to honesty and a no-gossip zone. For more concrete steps on how to communicate away your conflict, check out a mirroring technique using empathetic listening I love that is discussed in this article on Six Steps to Conflict Resolution.

Conclusion

Facts don’t cause tension or conflict. The stories we make up about them do. To move towards becoming a more conscious leader, we should learn to hold our story lightly, acknowledging that our story is simply that…OUR story. It is not necessarily fact or truth. It is our interpretation of what is going on. Moving towards this helps us to share our stories and makes others more comfortable in sharing their own stories with us as well. This eliminates gossip and makes our organization more healthy.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part 7 of the Conscious Leadership series, where we’ll dive into Commitment 6 of the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.