I work in a hornets nest

Feb. 1, 1999
The continuous stream of gossip makes me distrustful of my co-workers ? if they talk about someone else, they will talk about me as well.

The continuous stream of gossip makes me distrustful of my co-workers ? if they talk about someone else, they will talk about me as well.

Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS

Dear Dianne,

I work as a hygienist in a large group practice. We have five hygienists, three doctors, five chairside assistants, and five business assistants. Our problem is gossip. Sometimes, I feel like I work in a living soap opera!

In particular, one of the hygienists and one of the assistants do not get along with each other. There have been numerous clashes between them, and the rest of us sometimes are dragged into the fray. I try not to get involved, but it is sometimes hard not to take sides. One person will say, "Did you hear what XXX said about ZZZ?" or "Did you know that YYY is secretly dating WWW?"

Frequently, I go home feeling depressed about the office tension that exists. Sometimes, I find it hard to go to sleep. I find myself lying in bed, worrying about things I have no control over. Every day is a new episode in this living drama.

It seems our all-male staff of doctors doesn`t have a clue about how to curb this problem. Indeed, I don`t think they know how bad the problem actually is. The continuous stream of gossip makes me distrustful of my co-workers - if they talk about someone else, they will talk about me as well. Needless to say, there is excessive staff turnover here.

There is a major problem with gossip in this practice, and I don`t know where or how to stop it. What do you suggest?

Tired of Gossip in Tampa

Dear Tired,

One gossiping staff member can do a world of damage in a dental practice. Gossips seem to thrive on the thrill of spreading yet another hurtful word about a co-worker. In essence, gossips are trying to make themselves look good by making those around them look bad.

Sometimes, even doctors get caught up in the gossip mill. I`ve seen cases where the doctor shares lunch with a staff member and then the doctor becomes a willing participant in the gossip.

I worked with a woman several years ago that was a gossip. She was a hot-tempered meddler that made everyone else`s business her business. This colleague invited confrontation with every other staff member. She would run to one staff member with a tale about another staff member almost daily. I think she delighted in keeping the `pot` stirred up. It was a good day for the practice when she was finally terminated.

Although gossip can be a problem in any practice, large practices seem to have more of a problem than small ones. Staff members in large practices are more likely to form "cliques" among themselves. This scenario usually leads to trouble, because cliques purposely exclude others in a hurtful way. Identifying the clique leader can be one step in eliminating the gossip problem.

However, you asked what you could do to stop the problem. Thank you for asking. By agreeing to not be the recipient of any future gossip, you can start a trend toward ending the gossip in your practice. The next time someone comes to you with a problem about another staff member, refer that person back to the person who can do something about the problem ? namely the one the problem is about!

If you are seated at lunch with some of your coworkers and someone begins a conversation about another staff member, speak up and say, OCould we please change the subject. XXX is not here to defend herself.O Do not allow yourself to be a part of any gossip, period. You will feel good about the stand you have taken to stop this problem.

Generally, in an office this size, there is an office manager. This person should be the one to handle any disciplinary measures in the practice. The office manager should be made aware of any staff conflicts that exist. Often, just getting the two conflicting parties to sit down and discuss the problem with an objective third party can go a long way toward resolution.

If there is no office manager, the managing doctor should be designated to bring the two opposing parties together to try to arrive at reconciliation.

However, if the gossip continues, the gossiping staff members should be terminated. There is no excuse for stirring discord among staff members.

Something I read in one of Stephen Covey?s books about human relationships said, ONever say anything behind a person?s back that you could not say if you were facing themO (slight paraphrase). I?d say that?s good advice for all of us!


Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is an adjunct instructor in clinical hygiene at Guilford Technical Community College. She holds a bachelor`s degree in human resource management and is a practice management consultant, writer, and speaker. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567.