Bo Parfet on Ending Workplace Gossip
Most professionals spend nearly as much time at work as they do at home. With more of the world pivoting toward telework and working remotely, the boundaries between personal and professional are even less clear. As a result, we need to be especially mindful of ensuring that the habits we practice at home homes do not carry over into our work. "Venting," for example, about what's on one's mind is a typical practice at the family dinner table. But when the practice turns work-related, it can easily result in problematic workplace gossip.
Abstaining from talking behind people's backs is always easier said than done. That is because when we promise not to gossip, we are failing to define what exactly gossip entails. Co-workers are probably likelier to admit to a "confirmation expedition" than to engage in a workplace gossip conversation. A "confirmation expedition" might involve one colleague asking another to confirm their reaction to a third colleague's behavior. It could also include welcoming another colleague's discussion of a third colleague's actions. However, asking colleagues to vindicate your experience with other co-workers still qualifies as talking behind your colleague's back, thereby encouraging gossip.
As we all learned from a young age, when playing the game "telephone," a meaningless mistake can result in complete miscommunication. Gossip in the workplace is not harmless, even if it seems innocuous at the time. Research associates workplace gossip with decreased morale and pervasive rumors. Gossip in the workplace can reduce your colleagues' personal and professional credibility while amplifying anxiety and divisiveness in the office.
While gossip might seem like a relief in the moment, all it does is prolong the inevitable. Colleagues may feel encouraged to gossip with one another about a colleague who is not present because of shared feelings of stress tied to that absent coworker. However, rather than exchanging damaging information about said absent coworker, they could instead confront their discomfort and reach common ground by making all parties involved feel more comfortable.
The idea behind venting is helpful; humans should express how they feel while processing their emotions. From a psychological standpoint, venting about someone while that person is not present is a tale as old as time. For example, Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and professor at Cornell University's Weill Medical College. Drexler finds that "throughout human history, gossip has been a way to bond with others - even a tool to isolate those who aren't supporting the group." Drexler's commentary suggests that professionals who feel insecure due to a coworker seek to rebuild their security by undermining others' perceptions of the person who is threatening to them.
Venting is optimal when practiced face-to-face with the person who is spurring those emotions and that reaction. That is why I encourage professionals to seek paths toward reinforcing confrontation when they are frustrated with another colleague, rather than taking the easier path of talking behind their back. We tend to rely on gossip as a form of confirmation bias. Suppose we discuss our own experiences another person, and that person discloses that they have had a similar encounter with the same person. In that case, we are likely to hold our feelings in higher regard. If someone seconds our point, then how could we be wrong? Seeking approval in this manner neglects our feelings' validity. After all, we do not need another person's permission to feel the way we do about a colleague. I guarantee that you will find that the more you resist the urge to gossip, the better you will problem solve and the more productive your workplace will inevitably be.
About Bo Parfet
Bo Parfet is the co-founder and CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy (Denali), an impact investment organization that seeks out investment opportunities with entrepreneurs who are focused on social impact, fostering positive change in their communities and around the world.
A Kalamazoo, Michigan native, Parfet holds an MBA from Northwestern University, a Master of Arts in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Colorado State University. He began his career in finance as a Research Fellow at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and then went to Wall Street, joining J.P. Morgan as a financial analyst.
Parfet has a career history of building success. In 2012, he founded Iconic Development and earned the Inc. 500's Fastest Growing Companies distinction that same year. In addition to his work at Denali, Parfet is Managing Director at DLP Real Estate Capital.
Parfet is an avid mountaineer, claiming recognition as one out of just 127 people to conquer all Seven Summits. He is an author, philanthropist, volunteer, and community activist. He received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for completing more than 4,000 hours of volunteer service worldwide. He is a member of both the Explorer's Club and Young Professionals Organization, two esteemed organizations known for their commitment to building a better future. He is also an advisory board member for the non-profit, Adventure Scientists.
Parfet enjoys staying active in the great outdoors and lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and two children.