Can you stop your employees from gossiping? Maybe you shouldn’t even try. In today’s guest post, Beverly Flaxington shares some surprising ways gossip can actually help your small business.

Social scientists have long known that gossip isn’t just a frivolous pursuit or guilty pleasure. It creates power hierarchies, strengthens bonds, and is an important form of communication. But here’s some surprising news: You can use gossip as a powerful productivity tool in your business.

It’s difficult to know how much one’s employees are gossiping, because gossip generally takes place in secret. But a fascinating new study (here’s the link) was able to learn how much people gossip at work by examining thousands of emails from the former Enron Corporation, and their findings were stunning. About 1 in 7 emails was gossip, or 14.7 percent. And that’s just emails!

How much are your employees gossiping, and what are they talking about? You need to find out so you can turn this potentially negative distraction into a performance booster. Here’s how.

  1. Convene an “obstacles session.” Hold a meeting in which you ask employees to define success. What do they want? What does success look like? Then ask them to list what’s not working, the obstacles they’re gossiping about, and how these are preventing success. Sometimes the gossip itself gets raised as an issue.
  2. Turn it into a problem-solving session. Get them to categorize their complaints into items they can control, those they can’t control but can influence, and those they have no control over. What ideas do they have? What would they need to do to solve the problem, and who will do it? Without realizing it, they’ll wind up with action plans.
  3.  Return the topic to gossip. Ask them to analyze their gossip to determine its impact. For example, if an employee is talking about someone negatively, is it because she doesn’t like that person or because that person is preventing her from being successful? Help them see that gossip is a waste of work time unless it generates ideas to solve a real problem.
  4. Make gossip positive and proactive. Ask employees to brainstorm examples of negative, meaningless gossip. Now have them practice turning that into a positive, problem-solving conversation. For example, “Sam always tries to make me look bad so he can look better.” (negative) “I’m going to ask Sam how he can improve his sharing of data with me, because not doing so reflects poorly on me and our department.” (positive, proactive)

Bottom line: Gossip, if left as gossip, can destroy a team or a company. But if the manager views gossip as an indicator of underlying issues that need to be addressed, he or she can use this as an opportunity to shed light on them and deal with them. If viewed an “alert” or a source of information, gossip can be a goldmine for the manager who knows how to use it.

Beverly Flaxington is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA), hypnotherapist, and career and business adviser who specializes in helping managers and employees deal with difficult workplace relationships, performance issues, and goal achievement. Her previous book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, won a Gold Award from Readers Favorite for the best new book on workplace relationships. Her latest title is Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where YOU Want to Go. Learn more at