Gossip is like butter in that it spreads easily

Harvey Mackay

There was a young boy who liked to gossip. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him every time he gossiped, he should hammer a nail into the back fence.

The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence. They gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his tongue than to drive those nails. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t gossip at all. He told his father, who suggested the boy now pull out one nail for each day he exercised restraint.

Days passed and the young boy finally told his father all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. “You have done well my son, but look at the holes in the fence. It will never be the same. When you say things about other people, they leave scars just like these,” the father said.

Think of gossip like the game many children play, where everyone sits in a circle and one person starts by whispering something in the next person’s ear. That person then whispers what they heard in the next person’s ear, and so on. The last person tells what he or she heard. It’s often fun to see how the initial message changes drastically and quickly.

Although a certain amount of personal chitchat goes on in any workplace, gossiping employees can erode trust among co-workers and infect a team with dissension and hostility.

Keep rumors from gaining a foothold in your organization. This is easy to do.

Improve general communications. Employees will believe rumors if they don’t have access to facts. Even in tough times give your people as much information as you can so they can rely on solid data — not half-truths. If you can’t share news, explain why so you don’t appear to be hiding anything.

Confront rumors directly. If you catch wind of an untrue rumor, go to the source and set him or her straight, explaining the damage false information can cause. Clear up the confusion with your entire workforce right away. They may think twice about spreading or believing rumors if they know you’re ready to step in.

Set the right example. Don’t listen to gossip that comes your way. Either correct any misinformation immediately, or explain that you’re not interested in rumors. Don’t pass along any unsubstantiated stories yourself. Let the gossip stop with you.

On the bright side, the same is true when the talk is positive. Believe it or not, not all gossip has to be bad. The grapevine can be a valuable source of information to help in your career.

Consider that some gossip can be intentional leaks of information you should know, and if you learn who is worth listening to you can develop a sense of what’s ahead for your organization.

Listen thoughtfully and don’t feel like you have to add a comment. Adding grist to the mill may come back to haunt you, so hold your tongue and weigh the information you are receiving before passing judgment.

Think of gossip like soft butter. It’s easy to spread and adds a little flavor to just about everything. But trying to unspread it is just about impossible.

There is always a little residue left behind, a greasy spot that’s hard to clean up.

Think about that before you try to butter someone up with a little juicy gossip.

Mackay’s Moral: If people would not carry gossip, it would not go so far.

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