I was mentoring a woman recently who was telling me how unhappy she was in her job because there was a culture of gossip and talking behind each other’s backs.
Yes, there are many work teams that work really effectively. It is so exciting to work in a supportive professional team with everyone is working towards a common end and everyone’s opinion is valued
Lots of work teams are made up of all women. What it is about us as women that at times we can be so bitchy and covertly (or overtly) unsupportive of each other?
Some of the buzz words around teams include terms like mindfulness at work, collaboration and mutual appreciation but often the relationships between colleagues can be far from collegial and can be unhealthy or at worst toxic.
Let’s just hold for a moment the idea that there is a positive intention / need behind behaviour.
What need could gossiping and backstabbing serve?
Perhaps when we gossip and talk about a person who isn’t present we are unconsciously trying to move higher up the pecking order by putting someone else down? Perhaps gossiping is a way to feel part of the ’tribe’? The need to belong and feel part of the group is so fundamental to us as humans that it is almost coded into our DNA, as it were. We are social creatures and need to feel connected if we are to survive and thrive. This harks back to our infant attachment needs; as babies we are so utterly vulnerable and dependent.
Gossiping and being bitchy is not a kind loving way to get this need met, but most of us were not encouraged to learn compassionate and kind ways of being with others when we were little. For most of us, the adults around us when we were growing up weren’t aware of their behaviour and didn’t know how to communicate with kindness and compassion. We all know that very young children absorb the ways of being of the adults caring for them. Many of us were shamed rather than listened to and told we were ‘naughty’ and ‘a bad girl’.
However, there is a big difference between the theory and the practice.
Regarding the woman I was mentoring: she and I talked about the communication skills and strategies that she could learn to assist her to ensure that she spoke as respectfully as possible, while also learning the skills to listen.
Skills like using “I” statements, describing behaviour rather than using labels and judgements and listening reflectively with compassion are all learnable. It just takes commitment, time and practice.
Truly walking the talk in terms of embodying relationships and respect and kindness requires a commitment from us.
The woman and I brainstormed what a commitment to respectful relationships looks like:
No gossiping, no talking behind backs
If we have a problem, then we talk to the person directly – with support to help us speak cleanly and clearly.
The old saying ‘It takes two to tango’ also requires us to take responsibility for our part in any disagreement / difference of opinion. We all make mistakes at times; we can all get triggered by someone’s comment and behaviour.
This is where courage and guts comes in.
Brene Brown inspires us when she says
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as "ordinary courage.”
This is important work. It assists us as workers to deepen our practice and make our work meaningful. Developing awareness and the communication skills also has a spill-over effect into our lives outside of work.
I love doing this work – and so do the women I work with:
‘I have learnt skills for which I'm extremely grateful and use every day in my work with children, and relationships outside of work. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ JC
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all work places truly operated out of these values and principles?
If this speaks to you I would love to talk about how we can work together.