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Gossip can undermine your leadership


On his HBR.org blog, Dan Pallotta discusses the importance of communicating with integrity in the workplace, warning that gossip can be destructive.

The author asks us to consider the amount of energy that people put into undermining other people – all working for the same company – through gossip. In fact, he believes some people confuse gossip with work, saying that "we think that as long as we're busy, we're working, and gossiping about others can keep you pretty busy".

But gossip kills possibility, warns Pallotta. He adds: "It kills the business, or at least its real potential, which is essentially the same thing. We end up working harder to undermine our fellow workers than we work to make the business work out in the market place. Competitors couldn't possibly thwart the possibility of our success to the degree we thwart it ourselves."


By gossiping about a leader, employees become more committed to that leader's failure than their success, and they become "constitutionally impervious" to their leadership. Similarly, managers who bad-mouth staff behind their backs cannot lead effectively because they are in a position of dishonesty.

Pallotta says the solution is painful but simple: make "ruthlessly honest" communication the number one priority at every level. He explains: "It's painful because it gives rise to emotions that have been stuffed under the rug for years. Things that have been held down can put a lump in the throat when they come to the surface. We'd rather not deal with that."

However, Pallotta insists it is a price worth paying for honest communication. But he warns that the shift to openness can take time, and that gossip has to be outlawed multilaterally rather than unilaterally.

"You have to get the whole organisation to want to outlaw it, and then to nurture a culture in which it is unwelcome," he says.

Pallotta adds: "Embedding good communication throughout an organisation means much more than setting an example.

"It means putting serious time and resources into it. It means appreciating that there is a technology to communication, in the same way there is to data flow. It means hiring experts in those technologies, giving them real power, and setting aside time in everyone's work schedule for training on an ongoing basis, in perpetuity."

Gossip Kills Possibility
Dan Pallotta