Backstabbing and Gossip In the Workplace. It Exists and ignoring it makes it worse.

hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil in team building some things are evil and we need to talk about it

Participation in our own backstabbing is the result of our desire to be accepted and our reciprocal fear of being rejected by Potential Perpetrators and Messengers if we confront them with what we believe or know to be true. – Jerry B. Harvey 

Backstabbing, lying, gossiping, being an asshole – these are all common things within work.

I am guilty, you are guilty, we all are guilty. 

A common coaching question is:

And what part did you play in making that happen?

I HATE that question and feel that team building & leadership consultants and coaches who ask it should hang their heads and turn in their copy Drucker’s Effective Executive

And as Harvey writes

How come every time I get stabbed in the back my fingerprints are on the knife?

Many people (and almost all managers) are the ones who are developing this loop of gossip and allowing it to continue.

I am certain that if we knew what part we were playing in it (really knew) we would also have the ability to STOP IT.

People Don’t Know How to do, What They Cannot Do.

also see you cannot teach a tadpole to be a frog by giving it jumping lessons.

When we knowingly accept and listen to other people talking shit about others, that involves us in the backstabbing crime.

This is trouble as a team member, even more trouble as a manager. The person that’s gossiping/complaining/generally bad mouthing someone and you as a manger have authority and accountability. By listening and letting this go-on you are, subversively, accepting and now are a part of the gossiping.

Stabbing yourself in the back!

The opposite of stabbing yourself in the back – is being seen as a person worthy of back-patting and praise within the team. That sound nice  

How to Avoid Stabbing Yourself in the Back?

1. Confront the person by telling them you are aware of what they are trying to do.

  • Just confronting the person will let them know that you do not want to be involved with this nonsense. Plus it will send a strong message through the office that you are not one to come to with gossip.
  • Confronting them also takes away, some of, their power to backstab you and / or the other person. By calling their behavior, once they try to backstab, the power of surprise is gone and you can call them out publically for their acts.

2. Confronting others and carriers of the backstabbing/gossip about their role and the damage it may cause

  • Generally when people come to managers to spread gossip there is a request to keep it secret.
  • If you explain that if they tell you something that is damaging to the work and people on the team, and expect you to keep it a secret. You cannot do anything to solve the problem, and if you cannot be a part of the solution there is no reason to share with me in the first place.

3. Confronting yourself and examining your role

  • What starts out as having the best of intentions, and wanting to hear the other person out – quickly pulls you into the backstabbing and gossip.
  • If you find yourself constantly involved in workplace drama…sooner or later you will also be a part of the drama – this is not where managers should be!
  • Choosing to not take part will put you on the outside and you may not get to hear all the juicy stories and be apart of the ‘gossip circle’ and that may actually be a good thing, because now you can get back to doing your work.

Unfortunately some teams and managers create environments where backstabbing, shit-talking, and gossiping are the norm.

They do this, sometimes, with the best of intentions – and are guilty of hiding their eyes, ears and mouths from the reality they are seeing.

Now you can do something about it when asked, “What part did you play in making that happen?” you can share what you did to stop the nonsense and move the team forward.


What do you think?

What stories do you have of stabbing yourself in the back? What do you do when gossip and backstabbing come to you? As a manager, what works best to avoid and stop this from happening?

Team Building Leadership Innovation expert Michael Cardus

michael cardus is create-learning

Link to original post

Leave a Reply