Have you ever gone to work in a good mood, only to have a conversation with someone in a bad mood? Chances are, you found your own mood deflated. Attitudes are as contagious as the flu, and a few bad apples in your office can quickly bring down the culture of your entire company. It’s not only the perpetually angry employee that you have to watch out for — it’s the workplace gossip.

Harmless chitchat can take a turn fast. You’re talking about a co-worker or employee in a way that seems innocent, and suddenly you are chatting about their lives in a way that is none of your business to do. It’s easy to get sucked into gossip. We’ve all done it. If you own a small business, you need to know that office gossip can turn your company on its head and take you down a road you can’t come back from.

Developing a zero-gossip culture is important, but not always easy. If you have determined that the office talk is more gossip than conversation, it’s time to put it to a halt and fast. Here are some tips if you are trying to come up with ways that you can put an end to it and change the culture of your company to a more positive one.

1. Be the Example

As the leader of your company, you are the person that people are looking to for proper behavior cues. You need to set the example. If you are around when gossip starts, shut it down. If that isn’t your style, simply walk away. The people who work for you will soon put it together and determine that gossip won’t be tolerated.

Never discuss one employee with another. If you are having an issue with an employee, discuss it with your managers and that employee specifically. No person in the company should believe that you have anything but positive things to say about any employee.

2. Set the Policy

You can’t “punish” people for gossiping if they don’t know it’s against the rules. If you catch an employee talking about another, put an end to it. If a manager or someone else in a position of power discloses personal information about an employee, they should face consequences. You can’t, of course, do these things without telling people how you feel and what your expectations are. Decide these things and release the information to everyone in your company.

3. Have a Meeting

Once you’ve decided what your policies regarding gossip are going to be, have a meeting. Let everyone know what these policies are, provide them a written copy and secure everyone’s signature saying that they have received the information and agree to abide by the policy. Make sure that your employees understand the negative impacts of gossip and why you are adopting the new rules. People are more apt to follow your policies and procedures if they understand the “why” behind it.

4. Address Those Involved

Most small offices with a gossip problem have one because everyone is involved. That said, you may find that it’s just one or two of your employees who are guilty. Address them properly, tactfully explaining that they are affecting other employees and that their behavior will no longer be tolerated. For some, gossip is such a way of life that they don’t even realize they are doing it. You may be surprised at the feedback that you receive.

5. Highlight the Positive

Gossip doesn’t have to be negative. To help alleviate the problems that come about when things are quit cold turkey, Encourage employees to gossip about the positive and lead by example. Did someone in your office go above and beyond? Does someone provide excellent customer service that should be emulated? Talk your employees up, and encourage them to do the same for each other.

6. Flip It

It can be difficult to stop gossip altogether, but you can show your employees how to flip the script. If you hear gossip, instead of ignoring it or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, losing your cool, spin it. Counter the gossips negative attitude with something positive. “Hey…did you hear what Nancy did last night? I heard she was so…” can be countered with, “No, but I do know that she was amazing at work on Tuesday and she brought in that client we’ve been wanting for months.”

7. Keep Your Own Mouth Zipped

Here’s the thing. It can be easy to start treating a small group of employees or co-workers like family. Don’t. People can’t gossip about what they don’t know. Your personal life should stay out of the office. Don’t tell the entire work group what you did last night; they don’t need to know. Don’t “friend” co-workers or employees on social media. If you feel the need to do so, create a separate account for work. It’s easy to do.

8. Start from the Beginning

The best way to avoid gossip in the office? Hire employees who aren’t into it. It’s impossible to completely weed out gossipers, but there are some good questions you can ask that can act as a red flag. For instance, as the candidate what they thought of their last boss or former coworkers. Some people won’t be able to help but to delve into the dirty details — a pretty good sign of a gossip.

No one wants to be the center of the latest gossip, but it can be oh so tempting to be the people talking about the latest “news.” Gossip can rapidly turn the positive culture you’ve established on its head and have people heading for the doors. If you don’t want gossip to ruin your office, you’ve got to set policies and be the example. You’re the boss. What you do and say is what goes so make it your mission to make this a zero-gossip year.

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