Gossip is more than idle chitchat. It can be very distracting, demoralizing and a veritable time-suck. What to do when your volunteers come to you with gossip, especially negative gossip, about other volunteers or staff?
From the beginning, it should be made clear that gossip and the following types of activities will not be tolerated in your organization.
- Talking about someone in a negative or critical manner when they are not present.
- Repeating hearsay information about another person (i.e., spreading a rumor).
- Violating a person's confidence by repeating information meant to be confidential.
This should be discussed, and ground rules should be established, during volunteer orientation or the first meeting of a board or committee.
Have a Shared Definition of Gossip
Make sure everyone, volunteers and staff, have a shared agreement on what constitutes gossip. Take the time to discuss and develop a working definition so there is no confusion on the topic. You can begin the conversation by offering these criteria for evaluating whether someone is engaging in gossip:
Is it fact or fiction? Has the person verified whether the information is true before passing it along?
What is the intent? Is the person spreading a rumor with the intent to harm another person's reputation? In what way does such information serve a useful purpose?
Does it honor the values of the organization? Is this person honoring the values of your organization when he talks (or sends an email, etc) in such a manner?
Make Sure People Know How to Respond to Gossip
Provide training to staff and volunteers so they know how to spot and respond to gossip. This includes specific behaviors such as what to say in a face-to-face situation, how to handle an email, and to whom one should report egregious acts of gossiping. In addition, make sure staff and volunteers understand there will be consequences (e.g., volunteers can be stripped of their positions and staff can face disciplinary actions).
The Bottom-Line: The work of staff and volunteers is too important to be undermined by gossip. 'nuff said!
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