Gossip and Civility

Speaker Shelby Scarbourgh gave a TEDx talk in 2016 about civility.  She mentions George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Rule number #50 states: Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.


Ms. Scarbourgh goes on to say: “Spreading gossip was not civil then and it is not civil now.”

The purpose of this blog is to use rules for civility as insight into our own behavior. Using civility rules as a hammer for others people’s behavior never works. With this rule, we individually have an opportunity to look at gossip.

How does it make us feel when we hear gossip?

How does it make us feel when we share gossip?

If we are honest with ourselves, we feel good at first to hear gossip, or feel powerful when we share information that others do not know. However with a little reflection, we tend to feel empty.

Getting skilled at recognizing gossip and learning to negotiate it is a worthy self-development activity.  According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, gossip can be addressed by first owning up to it, then creating and holding boundaries, and finally recognizing collusion attempts from people who want to share private information about a person not present.

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Krista Tippett is the voice of a social enterprise with a radio show called On Being at the center of its work.  Ms. Tippett was speaking at Drake University at the 37th Bucksbaum lecture this week in Des Moines. Her gentle voice brought calmness during a time of doubt to public radio listeners, students, and faculty at Drake University.

Delivering a message of hope for the future, Ms. Tippett invited listeners to move beyond the concept of tolerance and consider the concept of hospitality.

In the workplace and other public spaces, there is an apparent division based on how people responded to the election in the United States on November 8, 2016.  Could a response to this division actually be hospitality?

In this context, hospitality it is the old fashioned notion of inviting people into our spaces and allowing them to feel safe. That means allowing people to trust us to listen rather than simply defending our positions.

Hospitality is one of the twenty five rules of civility mentioned in P.M. Forni’s book , Choosing Civility. He invites us to care for our guests.  Forni says: “Make sure your guests know that you are delighted to spend time with them.”


Given this insight, what does hospitality mean in context of the workplace? We want to hear your thoughts.


Graphic of CultivateThe Seeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  Here we gather tips for leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.

Let Us Change the Eyes Which See Reality


In a recent visit to Indiana, the current President of the United States was asked about civility in politics. President Obama responded,

If you want more civility, then you vote for folks who are civil and who are making arguments and using logic and presenting evidence, not just somebody who is popping off.

Logic and evidence are good, however, the workplace is unique. For most of us it is not about making speeches and rhetoric. For the everyday person, the workplace is personal.  It is where we spend most of our day.  If we want it to not be toxic like our political space we need to speak up and listen in the midst of conflict in order to get work done.

Poise is the mindset we take when problems arise. One mindset that is helpful is to decide to get good at conversation. Conversation is a give and take exchange the can open our eyes to another person’s perspective. The quote below, reminds us that our only power to change things for the better comes from our own perspective. If  we don’t like the reality we see, we can change our perspective.

Since we cannot change reality,
let us change the eyes which see reality.

-Nikos Kazantzakis

In the post titled Compassion: An Antidote to Incivility, we wrote about the concept of fight or flight. Poise comes from an awareness that we are standing on fragile ground when there is conflict. Without thinking we will retreat or react because of our brain’s ability to protect us.

Here is a workplace example of a conversation that maintains poise and supports a co-worker, first to be seen, and then to see others people with new eyes.

Person A:  People from (another department) are lazy and rude. We always have to redo the work that they should be doing.

Person B: Are you frustrated about something in particular?

Person A:  Yes, when a customer calls they complain about (another department). If they took the time to do it right in the first place, we wouldn’t have the call.

Person B: I can see why you are frustrated. What have you tried to do to make it better?

Person A:  I complained to the manager but ____ is a lazy @#%& too!

Person B:  Bummer. I wonder if there is another reason the time isn’t being spent on the customer in the first place? 

Person A:  Yeah, maybe there is some rule about limiting the time with each customer.

Person B:  Perhaps. Do you ever see anyone from ___ on break? Maybe you could ask them what it is like?

Person A:  Yes, but I don’t see what good that will do?

Person B:  I don’t know either but it would be interesting to know what you find out. Let me know after you talk. 

Read the conversation again and notice two approaches:

Curiosity: Person B used mostly questions to approach the person speaking.

Intention: Person B had the intention to first affirm the speaker and then to use questions to broaden the perspective of the other person.

If Person A was speaking from a mindset of “fight,” the approach would be to either prove the speaker wrong or to tell them the right way to do it.

If Person A was coming from a place of “flight,” they would excuse themselves.

In times of emergency, telling a person how to do something is the best approach. Or if there is simply not time to engage in a conversation, excusing oneself works well. When there is time, engaging in a strong powerful conversation is better than just letting the conversation become a complaint or gossip session. Soon we will be sharing more about the research that tells us that complaining and gossip lead to a lot of negative results.

Do you agree? Do you think taking time to engage in conversation to better understand the perspective of others can make a difference? If so, let us know.

Graphic of CultivateSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We cultivate conversations about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.