What you need to know about office drama and gossip
Posted May 16
In this edition of LIFEadvice, coaches Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham help you understand the real cause of bad behavior at work and how to deal with it.
I work in an office with all women and there is so much cattiness, fighting, gossiping and judging that it is a pretty unpleasant place to work. I realize you might say I should leave and find another job, but jobs that work with my schedule and pay this well are hard to find. Is there anything I can do to be an agent of change or influence others to be kinder and more compassionate to each other? Or is there a way I can at least stay above it all and not let it bother me so much?
Unfortunately, businesses who have a lot of female employees often have more office drama and gossip than offices with more male employees, but we also get calls from human resources directors whose companies are going through a merger, have high stress environments or are in fast growth, because stress and change always create people problems.
This happens because change and stress cause fear of failure and loss issues to rise to the surface, and these two fears are the hidden cause behind most bad behavior and relationship clashes. If the issues can’t be resolved by HR, they often bring us in for executive coaching and performance evaluations to figure out and solve these people problems fast.
Every single employee brings some pain, stress and fear around their families, money or relationships to work with them every day. These pressures in their personal lives mean they come to work almost every day in a fear state.
People functioning in a fear state will be easy to offend and quick to feel criticized, taken from, threatened or unsafe. These employees may be subconsciously looking for mistreatment and they could have a short fuse and a rather selfish viewpoint. Understanding the fear behind the behavior is the key to gaining compassion for them and seeing their gossip and bad behavior accurately.
Every person in your office is fighting a battle at home you know nothing about.
They are very likely in pain and fear, at some level, almost every day, and this is the real cause of their bad behavior. If you want to change how you feel at work, you must get a more accurate perspective about bad behavior and you must not take it personally.
People behave badly because of their fears about themselves. It is rarely about you.
Also remember — it is only hurt or hurting people that hurt people. This means the people whose behavior is bothering you most are the people in the most pain about their value and their journey. Bad behavior is always a sign of inner suffering.
We talk a lot in our articles about the two core fears (the fear of failure and the fear of loss) and how they drive human behavior. The truth is, whenever people are in a fear state they are completely focused on one thing: getting anything or doing anything they can to quiet the fear.
In this state they are incapable of thinking about what others may need or want. All they can focus on is "What would make this fear or pain stop?"
If someone functions in fear of failure, they are deeply afraid they might not be good enough. When the fear is bad and they experience shame or feel insecure, one of the most common ways they react (subconsciously respond) is they focus on any bad in the people around them.
The more they focus on other people's bad behavior, they don’t have to think about their own. We call this the Shame and Blame Game and we all play it at times. The more shame we feel, the more we blame others, criticize and gossip. I suspect many of the gossipers in your office are doing so, because they’re covering their deep insecurities or shame.
If any of you are prone to gossip yourself, ask yourself if your fear of not being good enough might be in play. Be aware of the safety you might feel if you put others down or focus on their bad. The first step to changing any bad behavior is being conscious of why you do it.
If someone functions from a fear of loss, they are deeply afraid of being taken from, mistreated or losing control. These people may be territorial, defensive, protective or controlling and they will be quick to be offended and see mistreatment everywhere, even when it’s not there.
We want you to understand the real cause of bad behavior so you will have more compassion for yourself and the people you work with. We recommend you don’t try to "stay above it" though, as that can be a place of judgment looking down at the "bad" people involved and that isn’t accurate as we all have the same intrinsic value.
Just see bad, immature gossip or dramatic behavior accurately, as fear-driven behavior that happens when people are afraid they aren’t good enough and need to look for the bad in others to distract them from their own.
If you see bad behavior accurately you may also see what these people need, which is to quiet their fear, so they can stop criticizing others to feel better. What they need is validation and reassurance about their worth. This is often the last thing you feel like giving someone who is acting haughty, arrogant or better than others, but it is what they need.
Look for opportunities to point out kindness, compassion and good behavior in your gossiping co-workers. Tell them often how grateful you are to work with such kind, encouraging and non-judgmental people.
You may even say that when you first came to work there you heard a lot of gossip and backbiting, and you are so grateful that doesn’t happen as much anymore. Tell the people who do it the most how positive they are and you admire the way they never say an unkind word about anyone.
I know this may seem like lying, but it’s really helping them see who they have the potential to be before they even show up that way. This positive encouragement literally encourages better behavior, because people always want to live up to your highest opinion of them.
When you point out their good qualities you literally push them in that direction. This is the most compassionate way to encourage better behavior. When you help them to see their light, instead of their darkness, you push them toward being their best.
It may also help you to remember that all unloving behavior is a request for love. Every unkind word or fearful reaction is a request for validation and reassurance they are good enough.
This is true for the people in your home, too. We have seen one person completely change the culture at work or home by just giving more compliments and validation to the team. When people start to feel safer, more appreciated and even admired at work, they are happier and show up with more respect and kindness.
Go get them with your positive uplifting attitude and help them rise into better behavior. Don't criticize or point out their bad behavior because that will increase their fear and will only make it worse.
If you do all this and they still remain in negativity and drama, see this as your perfect classroom, take nothing personally and work on being a source of light and love in your office anyway.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.