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A Simple and Courageous Act that will Stop Gossip Dead in its Tracks

One of the key goals of The Pickle Challenge is to make people more aware of, and less tolerant of, toxic emotional negativity, including gossiping, in themselves and in others.


“Let’s face it, gossip is one of the world’s most destructive habits, and we’re exposed to it practically everywhere we go and in much that we see – work, recreation, sports, home, in magazines, on television. There is absolutely nothing beneficial about gossip – it hurts everyone involved.” (emphasis in original)

Lori Palatnik and Bob Burg: Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It from Your Life and Transform Your Soul

I am not an internet celebrity and it is unusual for any of my LinkedIn posts to receive more than a hundred likes and a handful of comments. But my recent post on why gossip is so toxic to organizational culture has already received nearly 800 likes and 65 comments.

Workplace gossip is a subtle and insidious form of bullying. It is the gossip exerting a harmful power over the person being gossiped about – intentionally harming that person’s reputation in a sneaky way that cannot be countered by the victim, who is probably even unaware of the way the gossip is spreading rumors behind his or her back.

To not create a clear expectation that gossip is not to be tolerated within the organization is a failure of leadership. One of the leader’s foremost obligations to the people working in the organization is to provide a safe environment. And that means emotionally safe, not just physically safe.

Imagine if every time the gossip started taking about someone behind that person’s back, one of the listeners would pull out a cell phone, call the person being gossiped about and put him or her on speaker phone. “Mary and Jacob are talking about you here in the break room and it sounds really juicy – I think you’ll want to be part of this conversation.”

If enough of us had the courage to take that simple step, gossip would be ended within days, perhaps within hours.

It doesn’t take a new policy, it doesn’t take a speech by the CEO, and it doesn’t take bringing in an outside consultant. All it takes is a consensus that we owe it to each other to create a respectful environment, and that tolerating gossip and rumor-mongering is a symptom of profound disrespect.

As Bob Burg and Lori Palatnik emphasize in the book quoted above, gossip hurts everyone. The flip side of that statement is that building a culture that does not tolerate gossip will benefit everyone.

Make Your Organization a PFZ – Pickle Free Zone
The Pickle Pledge shown below is a simple (though not always easy) promise that you make to yourself, and to family and coworkers, that you will replace complaining with gratitude for your blessings and a commitment to take initiative instead of just whining about problems, and that you will no longer waste time and emotional energy on gossiping and finger-pointing.

The Pickle Challenge for Charity is an organizational initiative to make people aware of the personal cost of toxic emotional negativity in their workplace.

The Pickle Challenge is one of the first actions we take when helping client organizations build a more positive Culture of Ownership. As Jim Dethmer and colleagues wrote in their book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: “Gossiping is a key indicator of an unhealthy organizational culture and one of the fastest ways to derail creativity.”

The first generation of The Pickle Challenge raised more than $80,000 for charities by turning more than 300,000 complaints into 25-cent donations.

If every one of us took to heart The Pickle Pledge, and if every organization embraced The Pickle Challenge, it would go a long way toward curing the disengagement, burnout, and dropout that are a cause of great personal unhappiness and organizational dysfunction.

That is our goal as we work on Pickle Challenge 2.0. Stay tuned for details to come.

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