5 Ways to Stop Gossip at Your Small Business

Build trust and set a good example to kill this menace before it kills morale.
Act as a good role model for employees by being transparent and avoiding workplace gossip. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Gossip is one of the fastest ways to kill productivity and morale in the workplace. But many managers would rather ignore the rumor mill than experience the awkwardness of confronting it.

Roger Wilcoff

Stopping gossip is all about fostering trust, tackling rumors early and helping employees bond, according to business consultant Roger Wolkoff. (Photo: HN James)

“Business owners let the elephant stay in the room. That’s giving permission to the behavior,” said Roger Wolkoff, a business consultant who specializes in team coaching in Madison, Wisconsin.

The toxic nature of gossip prevents employees, and your business, from reaching their full potential, he noted. “In a small business, people have to wear many hats. The sooner people trust each other and become transparent, the better it is for all concerned.”

Here are five ways to snuff out rumors and develop a gossip-free culture at your business.

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Build trust early

A lack of trust is one of the biggest reasons employees whisper about each other, their supervisors and your business. Wolkoff said building trust and reinforcing it frequently is the best thing you can do to stop gossip.

“Develop trust as early as possible with your team,” he said. “At the beginning of meetings, do participatory exercises that get people involved and telling something about themselves, such as their favorite summer activity, the best restaurant they ate at recently or favorite holiday traditions.”

In addition, business owners can create shared experiences, such as participating as a team in community service projects, to make individuals less likely to dish the dirt. (Demonstrating corporate social responsibility can also enhance your brand image.)

“Meaningful activities are a way to build personal connections and trust. The team will be more likely to come to the table with ideas for your business if there’s trust,” Wolkoff noted.

Lay some ground rules

Gossiping is such an ingrained part of being human that people may not even recognize they’re doing it. Wolkoff said that creating some ground rules will help your staff realize when gossip is happening and how to stop it.

“Think of creative ways to name the rules, like ‘Code for Collaboration’ or ‘Ways of Working,’“ he suggested. “Ask people to be accountable to each other for maintaining the rules and exhibiting positive behavior.”

Rules like “avoid the meeting after the meeting” and “ask yourself who needs to know this information before speaking” are good starting points, said Wolkoff. The key is to think about the situations in which gossip commonly arises and get your staff to acknowledge it as it’s happening.

Tackle rumors directly

Relatively harmless hearsay can turn into a gossip fast if it’s left unaddressed by people in authority. Wolkoff said team leaders should tackle rumors at their inception.

“In meetings, ask what gossip or rumors are flying around and be open to addressing them,” he said.

You may not always have an immediate answer to a rumor, and that’s OK. Building a culture in which people are open to communicating is just as important as going on record to deliver the truth.

“If you’re not comfortable answering on the spot, then tell your team that you don’t have the answer right now, tell them when you will follow up, and deliver on your promise.”

Confront gossip carefully


When confronting an employee about gossip, have the conversation in a private and safe place. (Photo: Foxy burrow/Shutterstock)

While nearly everyone is guilty of gossip on occasion, there are usually one or two especially disruptive perpetrators in every workplace. You’ll need to address those busybodies directly if you want to nip gossip in the bud.

“It’s about gentle confrontation in a private, safe space. Remind them that this kind of conversation isn’t getting us anywhere and help them see the impact it’s having on the team,” said Wolkoff.

Related: How to Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

If they still don’t stop the gossip, you may need to consider disciplinary action.

“Sometimes, people need to be removed from a team or from the organization, if the gossip is persistent and toxic enough. If the behavior isn’t changing after lots of corrective action, it’s probably best for parties to part ways,” he said.

Be a good role model

When leaders engage in gossip, staff get implicit permission to do the same. Wolkoff said you should always be transparent and willing to share as much information as you can.

“Look in the mirror. Are you exhibiting the behaviors that you are trying to stop? You can tell your team to be trusting, but if they don’t see you engaging in that behavior, your credibility is shot.”

Your staff will follow the example you set. Even though you can’t stop gossip completely, modeling good behavior and encouraging open communication will minimize harm from hearsay.

“Be an example of the actions you want to introduce.”

Related: Nipping Employee Negativity in the Bud: How to Do It and Why It’s Crucial

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