From the VetPartners Experts: Gossip in the Veterinary Workplace

Aug 20, 2019 at 8:35 pm
Michelle Harcha, DVM, MA

Sitting in a workshop complaining about someone that was gossiping about me, I realized that I was gossiping about her as well. It was a moment of profound insight because I had no awareness that I was doing the very same thing to her. I went back to work, apologized, and said I would not do it again. I have kept my promise, and it has not always been easy.

Why do we gossip? For me, I realized that I had a “story” about her, and I wanted everyone to see her just like I did. I was spreading my side of the story—the situation as I perceived it to be true. I was convinced I was right without ever stopping to question my story, look at the truth, or even consider her side of the situation. I was triggered and angry and I wanted everyone to see it my way. Was that fair to her? No! And, when I realized that, I went to the people I had gossiped to about her and apologized to them for distorting their lens of how they perceived her. When I gossip to someone about another person and they believe me, they will see that person through a lens of the untruths I told them. It could negatively impact their relationship with that person—maybe forever.

I have also been on the receiving side of gossip. Someone gossiped to my new manager about me. It took more than a year to create trust and a positive working relationship with that manager because of the beliefs she needed to challenge about the gossip she had listened to and believed about me.

In his book The Four Agreements, bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz also talks about gossip in the chapter “Be Impeccable with Your Word.” This book offers a code of conduct based on ancient Toltec wisdom. He says that being impeccable with your word also means refraining from spreading gossip. He suggests that gossip is like a computer virus that enters the computer, replicates, and does harm. Every time you gossip about someone in the workplace, you spread this “mind virus” to others who spread it to more people. It destroys trust and creates an unhealthy work culture. Remember, a person who gossips to you about someone is likely to gossip about you to someone else as well. Can you trust the gossiper?

People may gossip for other reasons, too. For example, people who are insecure about their place in a practice may gossip to create a sense of authority, as their coworkers will come to them for this “inside scoop.” People may gossip to their friends and coworkers to validate their story. It makes them feel good and helps justify their reaction. Gossip is also about power. A person may rally their friends and coworkers to their side and against the other person. This can lead to additional destructive behaviors, such as belittling, excluding, blaming, passive-aggression, and overpowering, just to name a few.

If we all do it, can we stop it? Yes! And it starts with you. At a minimum, do not participate in office gossip. And when you notice yourself spreading negative comments about someone who is not there, pause and stop.

How to implement a gossip-free workplace

  1. Have a staff meeting to discuss workplace gossip. Ask your staff if it is a problem. Look for solutions first from them.
  2. Have the leader model the way. Self-disclose a time when you gossiped, the harmful effects of what happened, and what you realize now. Or, if you have been the recipient of someone gossiping about you, explain how that made you feel. What were the negative consequences?
  3. Make a team commitment to create a gossip-free workplace. Make a list of the ground rules for a gossip-free workplace, have everyone sign it, revisit the list at every staff meeting, and then hold one another accountable.
  4. Consider creating a workplace policy on gossip.

The Triple Filter Test

The next time you are approached by someone who wants to gossip about someone who is not there, you can use the Triple Filter Test, which has been attributed to Socrates. Although the source of this has been disputed, I think it is still helpful. Ask the person these three questions:

  1. Is the information about this person you are about to share with me absolutely true?
  2. Is there anything good you plan to say about this person who is not here?
  3. Will the information you are going to share be useful to me?

If the answer to any of the three questions is no, ask why they want to share it with you—especially if they are not sure it’s true.

The results of a gossip-free workplace can be extraordinary: increased productivity, less absenteeism, more collaboration, fewer mistakes, and an overall healthy workplace.

Be the change you wish to see. Model it to others. Stop spreading gossip. Gossip in the workplace is a form of bullying. Is that who you want to be?


Interested in reading more about well-being and building a positive workplace culture? Check out “Success, Stress, and Burnout in Vet Med,” or “Building Resilience to Thrive in Disruptive Times.”

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Dr. Michelle Harcha received her BS in agriculture in 1981 and her DVM from The Ohio State University in 1985. She also earned her master of arts in business administration from Antioch University McGregor in 2001. Dr. Harcha practiced for 10 years in Cincinnati, Ohio. Most of her practice career was spent as a staff veterinarian and hospital administrator in an emergency veterinary clinic. In addition to performing relief work, she was employed as an associate veterinarian at two small animal practices in the Cincinnati area. She worked in industry for Hill's Pet Nutrition for 12 years holding a variety of positions, including veterinary territory manager, consulting veterinarian, and veterinary affairs manager. In 2007, she became the director of alumni services and professional development education at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine leading the professional development curriculum for veterinary students. She held this position until May 2017, when she formed LeadYourShip, LLC, a veterinary consulting company that specializes in teaching leadership, communication, emotional intelligence, and The Work of Byron Katie. She resides in Grove City, Ohio, with her yellow Lab, "Colby."

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