Mediate Morale-Killing Gossip in Business and at Work


We took our son to his first business-related fundraising dinner last week. And the experience did not disappoint – it was actually dinner and a show (Rather, an unplanned table-based show before the planned fundraising show).

As we settled in at our assigned table (we didn’t know any of our table-mates), two adult couples began to bicker over their table assignment – the table was missing one chair and one place-setting. One couple left in a huff before banquet staff could be summoned. The other couple sheepishly settled into their seats.

If that wasn’t enough of a spectacle (our 14 year-old son has better coping and negotiation skills), a member of the remaining sheepish couple proceeded to engage the rest of the table not once, not twice, but three times in a conversation about how unreasonable and rude the other couple had been. No one except the sheepish couple member was really interested in pursuing the conversation. At the third iteration, I intervened. “I’m an HR practitioner,” I interjected. “I’m used to upset folks. It’s done – let it go.” Finally, the conversation turned to more mundane dinner-table topics.

Had this been a workplace conflict, the mediation needs were clear:

  • Both couples had a need to sit at our table;
  • The sheepish couple member had a need to be told they were right, and that it was alright.

The gossip (a.k.a. triangulation) post-conflict was even more concerning. At a banquet table, it was irritating and uncomfortable. Had we been in the workplace, in my HR practitioner / mediator role, I would have:

  • Encouraged the sheepish couple partner to go speak directly to the other couple about the conflict;
  • Offered my services as a mediator if speaking directly was too intimidating;
  • Pointed out that choosing triangulation / gossip over communicating directly with the other couple to resolve the conflict is without exception, a morale- and work culture-killer;
  • Advised that given how small the business world can be, engaging in gossip / triangulation rather than handling the issue head-on with the person(s) involved more often than not, can backfire and reflect poorly on the gossiper, potentially damaging the reputations of all involved.

How will you mediate morale-killing gossip in business and at work?

 

Wedding table

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