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Oftentimes we bombard our minds with distracting thoughts that diminish our focus. Roach, author of The Diamond Cutter, argues that the mental images we imprint in the form of thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes impact our perception, and are reflected in our action. He further explains: “…a single moment of burning [a] negative imprint into your mind can lead to days or weeks or even longer periods in the future when you have to experience the result of this imprint in the world around you” (2000, p. 166).

If we are in the habit of thinking or reacting to a person negatively, we are then:

  • more likely to perceive this type of behavior in others, and in subsequent interactions with the person in question;
  • to color our reactions accordingly; and
  • to perpetuate a destructive cycle that impairs our ability to get what we want.

Roach (2000) refers to mental imprints as small acorns which (over time) can expand into “gigantic twisted oak trees” and “voracious fish which grow fatter” in our minds. It then follows that the most insidious form of office clutter resides not within our desk drawers, but inside our body. Aslett argues accordingly (1994, p. 101): “Our mouth can resemble our office drawers sometimes – jammed full of things that aren’t needed and that don’t do us or anyone any good. Gossip has undone more office efficiency than all the junk mail in this century. Gossip is like a bad virus, unseen but spreading steadily and insidiously. What it doesn’t kill, it contaminates and alienates.”

Negative imprints can manifest in office gossip, which results in time wasted, legal liability [e.g., defamation, civil rights, and ADA violations], in a perception of management ineffectiveness if no action is taken, in decreased office morale from the focus of malicious taunting, and in third-party reaction (should rumors travel outside the organization) (Wheeler, 2009). The impact on those who are targeted through aggressive, spiteful ignorance can be extreme. Greengard (2009) describes a devastating incident of office gossip: “There is no way to describe how awful it is to become the object of company ridicule. I wanted to disappear and never come back.” The above incident, which sparked feelings of victim embarrassment, betrayal, and degradation, resulted in her eventual withdrawal from the company.

Character assassination is likely to surface when someone is about to be promoted, fired, or transferred (Greengard, 2009). Although gossip may temporarily proselyte lower ranking individuals to the dominant coalition, it is a poor substitute for an impeccable character that gains power through service to other people. Canfield (2005, p. 343) states this eloquently in his book The Success Principles: “To speak with impeccability is to speak only words that are true, that uplift, and that affirm other people’s worth.”  Maligning a colleague’s character is not only an energy drain on the target, but a poor reflection on the maturity of the offending party.

Either the individuals in question don’t know any better (in which case it’s ignorance), or they know and don’t care (in which case it’s a character flaw). The cocktail of loud, ignorant, and aggressive is a toxic combination, and it comprises the primary characteristics of individuals who engage in this pastime. More often than not it is the organizational shelf-sitters, malcontents, and conspicuous underachievers who enjoy this breach of relational etiquette.



Aslett, D. (1994). The office clutter cure: How to get out from under it all. Pocatello, ID: Marsh  Creek Press.

Canfield, J. (2005). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. New York: Collins.

Greengard, S. (2001, July). Gossip poisons business – HR can stop it. Workforce Management.  Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/archive/feature/22/28/80/index.php

Roach, M. (2000).The diamond cutter: the Bhudda for strategies on managing your business and your life. New York: Doubleday.

Wheeler, D. L. (July, 2009). Going after gossip. Workforce Management. Retrieved from http://www.workforce.com/archive/feature/26/53/16/index.php.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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