Gossip as a whole is found everywhere in every industry; but something I’ve been hearing a lot lately from dental office managers, dental receptionists, and even dentists, is that it is becoming an epidemic in dental offices. Gossip results in a communication break down in the office and becomes a place where employees can’t trust those they work with or work for. And just like a disease, the negativity of gossip in the office spreads, first, to how everyone does their job, then to the patients who rely on proper patient care.
To address this epidemic, we have to answer the big questions: What is going on? Who are what is the cause? And how can we bring an end to it?
What is going on?
Why is gossip the latest trend found in dental offices? As a membership coordinator for the Dental Office Managers Association of Canada, I have seen an influx in the subject of gossip in the workplace being one of the top three issues office managers are forced to endure. I have heard different solutions proposed, such as ignore it and it will go away or keep everybody busy and they will have no time to gossip. There is a level of truth to both of these solutions, but before you go ahead and follow through, it might help to understand where gossip can come from.
a) The people
Nobody thinks of themselves as gossips, but the truth is, we all do it. We are all guilty of it because gossip is seductive, and being a part of it gives you that sense of belonging. It isn’t only bullies that do it or people who mean to hurt others. In fact, in most cases, the people engaged in gossip don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong. There is no good and evil, there are just people and good decisions versus bad decisions. I’ll be honest I’ve engaged in it, got caught up in the drama. It’s hard not to.
But even if we don’t know we’re hurting someone, the fact of the matter is, we most definitely are.
b) The job
We all have our roles to play—Dental Office Manager, Dental Receptionist, Treatment Coordinator, and the list goes on, but sometimes, gossip can materialize out of a lack of knowledge about expectations and duties. Sometimes people will step on another’s toes or someone else will be perceived as doing no work. A good friend of mine sees it all the time in his job, workers complaining to other workers about how they are working harder than someone else or how someone else is doing their job. This not only creates a negative attitude but some pretty nasty gossip.
c) The power
In almost all the positions I’ve held, the gossip focussed on the one with the most power. We can’t say we haven’t done this at least once in our lives. Movies have been made about this! Our boss makes a rule we don’t like and we’re off on a tangent and making up reasons why they did such a thing, those reasons usually being wrong and sometimes hurtful. Because the dental office managers and dental owners have all the power, they are the ones who usually endure the most gossip. It is so important to be able to talk to and trust the leaders in the office; unfortunately, negative activities like gossip vilifies them unfairly and therefore, makes it impossible for the employees and those leaders to work as a team.
d) The attitude
A negative attitude in the office is the perfect breeding ground for gossip. If no one is getting along, if everyone is butting heads and conflicts are festering for weeks, months, even years, you can almost guarantee gossip is running rampant in the office.
How can we bring an end to it?
Once you understand where the gossip is coming from, it’s time to agree on solutions. But it isn’t all up to the individuals nor is it just up to the leaders. It’s up to the entire team to inhabit certain practices that help to reduce and even eliminate gossip.
What can the leader do to reduce gossip in the workplace? Refuse to let it go without consequence. Practice clear, firm, and consistent leadership, because this is what team members want and need, in order to thrive in a dental team environment.”3 Rhonda Savage, author of the article, “I’m So Tired of Her Attitude” provides 5 steps a leader can take to help eliminate negative behavior, like gossip, in the dental office.
Savage’s steps require taking a look and updating the policy manual if necessary and then informing your team about the changes in a meeting.3 She also suggests being clear about expectations, sitting down privately with the individual or individuals if things aren’t changing, and letting them understand that they had a choice and chose to continue the negative behavior.3 It’s at this point that the leader needs to put their foot down on their policies (without feeling guilty) and let the employee know that gossip is not allowed and because they continued to participate in it, the leader, for the good of the team and the business, would have to let them go.
It is also up to the leaders in the office to define roles and responsibilities and set expectations that will allow for everyone to know their place and to avoid stepping on others’ toes. If everyone understands their role completely, they will be too busy fulfilling that role to worry about what the others around them may or may not be doing.
Gossip is contagious. We all do it even if we don’t admit it. Just ask yourself how many times you’ve said something behind someone’s back. We are all guilty of it, mostly because we just need to vent—about the job, the people, the boss. Nobody’s perfect and everyone has bad days. My best friend described to me how at her job, everyone gets along, but when it gets busy and hectic, everyone is at each other’s throats or complaining about each other behind their back. It’s natural to need to vent. She does it all the time. She, however, chooses not to vent inside work or to people she doesn’t trust. She vents to me at her home.
The big takeaway here is simple: Vent outside of work. If you need someone to vent to or with, choose someone you can trust who will just listen and not start spreading it all over the place. Take it somewhere away from work where no one else will overhear. Venting is good, it’s natural, and it helps everyone relieve their stress. The problem comes when people vent inside work as it fosters a negative atmosphere that then everyone is exposed to, including the patients.
If, however, the situation is severe and needs to be addressed, the right move is to talk to the boss. Do not let it fester and avoid telling someone in the office you don’t trust as that may lead to the story spreading and people getting hurt. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect just as everyone should treat those around them with the same respect.
It is also important to not engage in gossip if you happen to be in the same vicinity. Confront the person to make them aware of their negative behavior and how it’s affecting the team.2 Gossip slows productivity and the only way to stamp it out for good is to be proactive both as a team member and a leader.
For more detail on the steps of being a proactive leader fighting against negative behavior, check out the Dental Town article, “I’m So Tired of Her Attitude.” And for more information on how the team can help reduce gossip, check out the Dental Town article, “Excuse me, I’m Talking Here!”