Does your appearance reflect on your professional performance or is it just gossip?

Sharon Rush

I’m not sure if any organisation can shut down gossip completely. Those organisations that believe they have eradicated it must realise that it often goes underground.  Facts get distorted by us speculating so it becomes fictitious and fiction gets talked about so much that we believe opinions are fact. Credibility or reputation can be changed for the better or worse in one over exaggerated piece of drama and we are all responsible for how we behave towards each other.

A real-life example

It wasn’t so long ago I overheard a couple of colleagues whispering about another colleague (Deidre) who had just left the meeting. A very last minute, and very early breakfast meeting had been called by our boss. Deidre had turned up in casual lounge wear, no make- up, hair undone and hugging her large cup of coffee. Regardless of her appearance, Deidre had completed all of her actions, presented some great ideas and was totally present throughout the meeting.

Later that day, I heard them again ramble about Deidre. Voices got louder, remarks became uglier. They had clearly clocked my presence but continued as if I wasn’t there. As the conversation became very personal, I felt I had to say something. I patiently waited for a pause and then asked the group “Who will give Deidre the feedback?” The room went silent and then someone remarked that they weren’t her manager. That was his job.  “It’s not our place”, someone else defensively argued. Deidre had been judged, found guilty and condemned to a perception of incompetence by pyjamas.

This got me thinking. Is it only managers that can dish out the critique?  What if the manager didn’t witness the so-called crime? We can all be skilled at giving feedback after all. OR in the age of immediate feedback, do we still escalate feedback to a manager?  When I explained this concept to this group there was no retort. They stared at me as if I had just condoned Deidre’s dress code.

What do we learn from this?

As we travel the world facilitating coaching and training we see more and more organisations adopting a “dress down” code. No wonder there is confusion. If our clothing is the packaging to our image and brand, does that mean that PJs, un-brushed hair and make-up-free faces dismiss our contributions to business results?

Yet this is more about accountability than image. The point that I raised to my group, who held no prisoners, is that how unfair it is to sit in judgement of a colleague when they aren’t present.Your only intention is to not share openly how you feel about their contribution.

When challenged, my colleagues wouldn’t share directly with Deidre. They’d rather share it with their echo chambers than the subject person. Gossiping is hurtful and often unkind. The gossipers amongst us often act cowardly with subjective data. It’s time to hold the gossip girls and boys accountable for their monologues. If you’re not prepared to share your thoughts directly then best keep your opinions to yourself.

As individuals, we all contribute to gossip and we all have ways to reduce it. Next time,

If you feel strongly enough about something, then say something. As people, we aren’t programmed to be malicious I’ll bet if you really take the time to think about your intention maybe you genuinely are concerned about Deidre’s perception. Share that with her. If you don’t want to share it then that probably confirms best to say nothing.

Always keep in mind that if you can’t say anything kind about someone then keep your unkind thoughts to yourself. And if you witness somebody else saying unkind things, point them to this post.


This blog post has been written by Sharon Rush, Founder, Coach and Leadership facilitator at The Skillset Group Ltd.