fear and toxicity in the workplace healthy workplace Oct 14, 2019

A few years ago, I was chatting with two colleagues, one of whom was serving up some hot gossip. We both listened, even adding in some of our own flair once she finished. But when she left, my colleague immediately said, "She really shouldn't have shared any of that with us. What a great reminder never to tell her anything about your personal life.” My colleague was on point, and I've kept myself to myself around this person ever since. Picture for a moment, seeing your deepest, darkest secrets splashed on one of those trashy grocery store magazines for everyone to feast on because that’s what happens when we gossip. 

Shame researcher Brene Brown gives a talk on "the Hidden Damage of Gossip." She brings up the concept of "the Vault," and discusses how we often hot-wire our connections and sabotage relationships by trash-talking others. She calls this "common-enemy intimacy," stressing that this behavior is false and should be eliminated. Employing "the Vault" between each other (never sharing those stories that are not yours to share) benefits every one of us.   

As a result, I've now added the phrase "not my story/your story to share" into my regular speech pattern, and I use it as needed when I’m with people who tend to gossip, stopping them before they get started and reminding them of how damaging it is.   

Yes, there is something delicious and irresistible about "dishing the dirt," but that fun is short-lived. You can be certain anyone who gossips with you will gossip about you, because gossip is an equal opportunity toxic behavior. Remember and honor what it takes for people to be honest and vulnerable. They share with you because they trust you to keep their confidences, as well as to be brave, vulnerable, and authentic with them in return. Everything should go straight into “the Vault.”  

Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the classic book The Four Agreements, writes about the self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and lead to needless suffering. He starts by addressing the toxicity of gossip and the importance of one's word, calling it the most important and the most difficult bond to honor. 


"Why your word?" Ruiz asks. "Your word is the power you have to create where you manifest everything; a force." Truer words, you’ll pardon the expression, have never been spoken. In my earlier post, Words Matter, we discuss the power of how we talk to one another, what words we use, and how they can both lift us and deeply hurt us. One comment can destroy untold numbers of people. Ruiz cites Hitler's words, which were based on fear-generated beliefs, and were used to destroy millions. Words have ultimate power.  

We all know how it feels to learn that something you said in confidence has been retold to others. Each of us has deep subconscious triggers from our childhood that bring up emotional trauma, hurt and negativity. These traumas live on in our lizard brain and add to our impostor syndrome

“If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.
—  Brené Brown

We know we spend a large portion of our lives at work, so we often want to create friendships there, but we are guarded about our personal details (and rightly so). A colleague told me she couldn't relate details about her children to co-workers because she believed she would be judged on the mental health issues her family deals with on a daily basis.  


We build and honor these Vaults with and for each other. 

We are impeccable with our word.  

We work harder on integrity and honesty.  

These are not minor tasks. We all have our moments; in my own life, the regrets I have come from when I've broken my integrity or been dishonest, even if it was to save someone's feelings. Many times, my ego or selfishness won the day when I should have known better and done better. Honesty and integrity are a choice, and we choose in every moment.  

“It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you, and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.
—  Iyanla Vanzant, NYT bestselling author, coach, and speaker.

This quote by Iyanla is ultimately where we want to be with each other, using the openness, self-care, and compassion we all need. When we gossip and share stories that are not ours with others, we cannot heal, we cannot be authentic, and we cannot grow those healthy workplaces we all want.  


Gossip is not gender-specific - everyone and I mean everyone does it. Gossip is part of our culture, in all facets of the media. Our fascination with celebrity and what happens in our neighbors’ homes are being catered to and fed everywhere we look. We need to rise above gossip and only tell the stories that lift each other, that inspire us, and push us to be the best versions of ourselves. Those ARE the stories to share in abundance, and there is plenty of joy in telling them. 

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