The Leadership Blog

Tips to Reduce Office Gossip

leadership making a positive impact office gossip positive solutions problem solving work solutions Jul 09, 2023

Have you ever wondered why gossip spreads so quickly in offices?  I have and I finally did some research and found the most interesting answer that’s actually based in science.  Usually there’s a drama triangle.  It goes something like this.

  1. Person #1 sees themselves as the victim
  2. Person #2 sees themselves as the rescuer
  3. Person #3 is seen as the persecutor

Here’s a scenario.  Person #1 goes to person #2 and says.  “Can you believe the boss doesn’t like my idea?  He never likes my ideas and always expects me to come up with more solutions.  He wouldn’t know a good idea if it bit him.”

Person #2 for some reason always thinks that in order to be a good friend they need to support whatever person #1 believes by saying, “I know.  He expects me to come up with multiple ideas too.  That’s awful.”

Meanwhile person #3 “the persecutor” has no idea person number one and two feel hurt, upset or like they’ve been treated unfairly.

This theory was discovered by Stephen Karpman in the 60’s.  Person #1 seeks comfort and validation instead of confrontation.  It’s known as illusory superiority bias which means we are hard wired to inflate and overestimate our opinion of ourselves while having a lower opinion of others.  Person #1 decides it’s not due to the situation, they blame person #3’s character.  They see themselves as a nine or a 10 and view the “so-called persecutor as a three or less.  Person #1 almost always assumes malice.

We can help reduce office gossip if we can get our teams to do two things.

  • Assume good intent
  • Go to the source and discuss the situation

These two, not so simple steps, are the building blocks of teamwork and healthy confrontation.

It looks so easy on paper, but it’s much more difficult to get our teams to adopt this work strategy.  When we assume good intent it makes us more emotionally intelligent.  When person #1 goes directly to person #3 and says something like.  “Hey, that conversation we had yesterday has really been bothering me.  Can we talk about it?”

In over thirty years of leadership, I’ve never seen a situation where the “so-called persecutor” wouldn’t take the time to have a conversation with an upset team member, when given the chance.  More often than not the root of the issue is a simple misunderstanding.  The leader likely sees the “so-called victim” as incredibly talented and full of wonderful ideas and solutions and is just encouraging the person to try a different approach.

Leaders see farther than others and often have a bigger vision and stronger belief in team members than individual team members have in themselves.

If you implement this strategy with your team, it’s likely you’ll still have some office gossip, but it might sound a bit different.  More like this.

“Can you believe Lisa pulled Steven aside and discussed what was upsetting her?”  The other team member might say, “I know.  Isn’t that great that they worked through their misunderstanding?