Q: My supervisor has banned office gossip. Is that even possible? How do we define gossip – is it the normal water cooler chit-chat or something else?
A: With God all things are possible. With supervisors, some things are possible. But in this case it’s mission impossible.
Your supervisor’s goal is fantastic but an edict won’t do it. Gossip is an idle, careless and lowly form of speech. It targets people, not events or issues (innocent water cooler chit-chat). And the content is often negative, small-minded, secretive and unjust. Wherever it flourishes, gossip undermines relationships – in families, neighborhoods, workplaces and, even worse, church congregations.
As a Christian, you should support the boss 100 percent in this effort. What’s needed, however, is buy-in, not push-back (which a commandment will provoke). Buy-in requires discussion and group consensus about speech in the workplace. How do we talk about one another? How do we handle complaints or problems in relationships? What are the boundaries we will set, honor and self-monitor? What exactly constitutes gossip and what’s our company policy about it?
One simple guideline. “What would I say if the person I’m talking about was here?” Then speak (or don’t) accordingly. The dignity of the individual is the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching. You can be a missionary in the workplace by promoting respect in word and deed.
Q: My boss is constantly selling candy bars, cookies or wrapping paper to support his kids’ sports and musical activities. I feel a lot of pressure to buy this junk – any suggestions to avoid it without jeopardizing my standing with the boss?
A: Your boss’ selling to subordinates for pet causes is inappropriate. Constant selling to peers is annoying, but not loaded. But hawking to those who report to you creates precisely the pressure you feel.
Addressing it directly will probably backfire. Be tactful. You could start with an occasional “No thanks” and see if your boss gets the hint. At least you’ll save a few dollars and maybe he/she might back off. But, of course, you risk some disfavor.
Better yet, try declining the purchase while supporting the cause. “I don’t really want the candy but here’s a couple bucks for more beautiful music in the world.” God loves a cheerful giver, so donate with a smile. If you can’t be cheery, consider it an irksome but minor investment in job security. And God still loves a giver, even a grumpy one.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director for the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership, an educator and executive coach.