Pettiness and gossip often run rampant in the workplace when disengagement is an increasing issue. As a team leader it can be difficult when comments blind side you. With good planning and a little training, you can turn comments into leadership gold.
Is there ever any value in pettiness? Sometimes.
On the positive side (as uncomfortable as that might be), they inform you about what to expect from each other. This creates a sense of predictability, which can boost trust and makes projects easier to control. On the negative side, well, you’ve probably been on the receiving end more than once. Pettiness and gossip can be wildly disproportionate and packed with lies and mean-spirit.
Ultimately for your own sake and for the sake of your team, you need to deal with it. So how do you?
The best way is to redirect the conversation so it has a more work-related orientation. For example:
Petty: I think he’s crazy. I wouldn’t trust him for anything in the world.
Work-related: The logic in the reports often doesn’t come together, and he frequently gets facts wrong.
Here are some other appropriate phrases that can help.
For those of us who are introverted and tend to want to think through our responses, sometimes it is best to memorize a few to use on the spot.
In one-on-one discussions when a team member launches a verbal assault on another team member
- How do these issues affect the assignment?
- That personal issue aside, what are his responsibilities?
- So how do you intend to work with him to get the best results?
- What steps do you intend to take so that you can work together?
In one-on-one discussion a team member calls another team member names
- I’d rather not hear name calling because it doesn’t help me understand what happened.
- Saying things like that isn’t useful. What do I need to know about his role in the project?
- What does that means in terms of my working with him?
In one-on-one discussion a team member relies on rumor to assert his position
- We don’t have any evidence that this is the case, so let’s look at what we know.
- I don’t know how that rumor surfaced, but let’s squelch it immediately. Here’s what I do know.
- I haven’t heard anything like that. May I quote you?
Make sure you have good meeting ground rules so that you are not tossed into chaos. In lieu of appropriate ground rules that your team has agreed to, here are a few suggestions:
- I’ve noticed that several people are acting unprofessionally. Please stop.
- We can’t continue this meeting until everyone here approaches the discussion in the most professional way possible.
- My expectation is that we will work as a team – which means everyone must be respectful and professional.
Following up the meeting by e-mail
- At the last meeting, several people made personal remarks that caused others to feel uncomfortable. Pleas refrain from such comments in the (date of next meeting) – and in the office in general.
- Remember, we are guided by policies that require professional behavior in word and action.
- Focus all your comments in the most productive and objective way possible – in meetings and in the office.
Dealing with pettiness and gossip is required of team leaders. Employees who find themselves repeatedly on the receiving end can eventually build a hostile work environment case.
By Jennifer Yelms, KIDS Shop
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