Gossip in the Workplace

Chismes (pronounced cheese – mess) is the Spanish word for gossip. Although gossip or the “rumor mill” is alive and well in many workplaces, it is often more prevalent and much more widespread with individuals who work in close proximity. A production line is an ideal environment for “chismes” to take root and spread. When you’re working shoulder to shoulder with other employees, performing repetitive tasks for many hours each day, you have an available audience to make your work day more tolerable and interesting. It’s a natural inclination for employees to want to share not only their personal stories but, those of others as well.

There is nothing wrong with friendly conversations while keeping the production line moving. The problem however, is when the conversations become malicious. Hispanics in the workplace often complain about the widespread and constant level of chismes they are subjected to. They explain that when you work in close circles, it isn’t long before your life becomes an open book. People start to make false and sometimes dangerous assumptions about other individuals.

The effect of chismes hurts many people.

First, it hurts the individual who is being targeted or talked about because he is not there to defend himself and it may very well ruin his credibility or reputation.

Secondly, it hurts the person who is listening because by believing the gossip, the listener may be strongly inclined to spread it to others. By doing so, the listener places himself in the same vulnerable position as the one who originally delivered the gossip. Once this process is repeated by others, the “rumor mill” spreads like a wildfire.

Finally, it hurts the person who is speaking negatively about others because it almost always backfires. The immediate response is “who said this?” or “where did you hear it?” When the truth comes out, it is the speaker of chismes who loses credibility, trust and respect.

Team leaders should speak openly to the front line employees about the poisonous effects of chismes. No doubt, there will be some individuals who will be embarrassed by the sheer mention of the word ‘chismes’ or they may object to being reprimanded. They may even claim that “it’s harmless and besides, everyone does it”.

It’s important for you to be direct, respectful and to the point by stating the damages caused and adverse consequences of speaking negatively about others.

Hispanics in the workplace would welcome your intervention in helping to reduce and eventually eliminate the widespread habit of chismes. It is an almost impossible task for the individual employees to put an end to it because it is so pervasive and it is also coming from many different sources. By simply acknowledging that you are aware of this negative and often destructive activity, you will do much to make the perpetrators of chismes realize that this behavior will not be tolerated.