An Innate Desire…
The desire to be part of something is an innate human need. We seek out community wherever we go. When we’re at work, our communities are supposedly our teams. But what if we’re working on a team that doesn’t feel like a community? What if we’re on a team that has some serious conflict occurring? What if we’re on a team whose leader is disengaged? What if we’re on a team and we feel out of our depth? All these things can make us feel like we’re alone. The idea of community in this type of situation is almost laughable. But then along comes our good old friend gossip. What’s the fastest way to build community? Start talking to like-minded people about things that are happening around you. Start pointing out the drama, the “can you believe she said that”, the hushed whispers around the water cooler.
Some of the tightest bonds I’ve ever experienced with people have come as a result of gossip. When I was working in a job that drained my soul, I couldn’t wait to get to work and have coffee with two of the other women on my team while we systematically gossiped about everything that was wrong with our office and the people in it. Having that community was the only thing that allowed me to get out of my car in the parking lot every morning and I’m not proud to say that I used all my leadership talents to keep that little posse going.
A Community at What Cost?
And yet, when I think back on that time, I feel ashamed. It’s not that the relationships I created with these other women weren’t real. They were. We celebrated together, socialized together, and supported each other. But we also tore down others, complained incessantly, and without realizing it, continued to create a very negative workplace. Sure, we’d created a community, the very thing all human souls need, but what kind of community was it really? A community that came at the price of misery. A community that continued only because by the very nature of having created it, we became complicit in the cultural disaster that was our workplace. A sick community. Which ironically mirrored the larger community in that organization.
Here’s the not-so-sneaky little thing about gossip. People know. My little gossip posse thought we were so slick, so discrete. Turns out we weren’t. Everyone else around us knew what was happening. They knew it because the community we’d created amongst ourselves was easy to spot. Communities are like that; both the healthy and the unhealthy ones. The closer we became the easier it was for everyone to see the divide on the team.
Taking Down the System…
The other thing we often forget when we gossip is that in reality we are moving ourselves even further away from the kind of environment we want to work in. Back in that job where I was so miserable, I was looking for a place that felt fun, supportive, kind, caring, and energetic. This is not unusual. Everywhere I go, I hear people talk about their desire to work in a place that is more open, more honest, more authentic, with better relationships between colleagues. Well, gossip is the opposite of that. In fact, I’d go out on a limb here and say that you will NEVER create that type of workplace if you are engaging in gossip. While my little posse and I derided management for their lack of ability to create a better team, we were in effect creating a system that made it impossible for them to do so. Not even a magician could have fixed that community while the gossip posse was in full-force.
What does this all mean then? For starters, remember that being part of a healthy community requires courage and truth. That doesn’t mean we get to be reckless truth-tellers. But it does mean that we owe it to ourselves to try to create the community we want to be part of. This means taking responsibility for what kind of community currently exists. It’s easy to blame a messy team on a manager or a company or a client. But taking the initiative to create a better community requires cleaning up some of your own messes; being honest about where you’ve let the community down and committing to creating stability and safety on the team.
The House of Cards Falls Down…
You’ll be pleased to hear that the gossip posse did eventually break up. I left that business, and over the course of the following few years, so did the other people involved. Sadly, those relationships did not make the transition. It turns out that even extremely close relationships have to be based on more than just gossip. When we no longer had anything to gossip about, we no longer had anything to talk about. It was a community built on a house of cards. Don’t let that be your community.
Susan McCusker is the co-founder of The Circle Up Experience. She and her partner, Beth Killough, offer people the opportunity to interact with horses in order to learn more about themselves, reclaim natural elements of leadership, and transform their human herds.