Stopping Gossip at Your Medical Practice

October 26, 2011

A 4-step guide to help your office: "Stop Talking About Trash ― STAT"

Medical practices, specialty clinics, hospitals and hospices are fighting a pesky virus: gossip. Trash talk, potty-mouth, he said/she said - these are only a few of the terms that are commonly used to describe plain old malevolence. If only there was a vaccine for vitriol. Like a bad flu, the bug of workplace disrespect can strike anyone in a moment of weakness, damaging professional relationships and patient care. No one is immune.

It's hard to place a concrete value on the benefit of professional civility; yet take one look at someone who's been spoken to or about with condescension, and you'll learn all you need to know about its worth.

Healthcare professionals are pre-wired to focus on wellness, not weakness. Strong professional relationships are as vital to patient treatment as medication, because patients can sense when there's an undercurrent of tension. And that's the last thing a sick person needs. Put an end to gossip in your medical practice; doing so will improve the emotional health of your practice, your staff, and the patients who rely on them.

Here's a 4-step guide to help your office Stop Talking About Trash - STAT:

S - Step away from the conversation, even if you can only do so in your mind. The second you hear someone speaking disrespectfully about someone else, take a mini mental or physical break and quickly scrutinize your internal guiding principles to determine if this is the kind of dialogue you will allow yourself to take part in. More often than not, when you really listen to your heart, the answer will be no.

T - Triage your options. When you find yourself in the grip of gossip there are usually a few ways out. If it occurs in an informal group setting, the simplest thing to do may be to quietly leave the room without a fuss. In circumstances when gossip is one-on-one, it's best to take a non-confrontational stand early in the conversation by saying something like, "I'd rather discuss this when Josh can be here to share the details from his perspective." But if out-of-control gossip is contaminating your office or unit, you need to be bold enough to play a central role in creating a solution. That starts with a personal commitment to remain uninvolved in gossip, because being an audience to it is as detrimental as uttering the comments yourself.

A - Ask for support. Can you imagine what would happen if you said, "Is anyone else tired of the way we're communicating around here? "If you're uncomfortable with the level of gossip at work, chances are some of your colleagues are as well. It's common for people to suffer in silence. Don't do that anymore. Take the lead by speaking up. Doing something like volunteering to lead a committee whose mission is to reverse rudeness at work will empower you to become an ambassador for civility. And if you're a manager who is hearing about chronic gossip, listen to your staff and work with them to delete disharmony.

T - Turn it around. Your patients are your priority, and they need your full attention. Yet it's hard to focus on listening to them when you're worried about what others are saying about you. You can refresh your team's spirit by taking steps to exclude gossip as an acceptable form of banter. Talk with colleagues about posting signs in meeting spaces, coffee rooms, and employee manuals that state, "We are proud of our gossip-free work zone." Include a courtesy gauge in performance reviews, and inspire one another to focus on kindness rather than cattiness. You'll be amazed at where that attitude shift will lead you.

We change the world one action at a time. Here's a simple way to begin: the word gossip begins with the letters GO. We can STOP gossip if we get up and GO when it starts.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com