How to Ignore the Smoke and Evaluate the Fire

Posted by martin.parnell |

This year I’ve set myself a goal to better my personal best times I set, in 2003, for the 5km, 10km, half-marathon and marathon distances. I call it 62 (my age now) beats 47 (my age in 2003). I always enjoy my running, whether I’m training for a specific event or just my regular exercise, especially the longer runs. They give me time to think, make plans and reflect. 

One day, last week, as I made my way along the Bow river pathway, here in Cochrane, I thought about the joy of running on a summer’s day, without all the layers of clothing needed in the cold weather. Then I started thinking about the issues a long hot summer can bring. This was due to the fact that, I couldn’t help but notice the smoke that has made its way across the Rockies, from the BC wildfires. Many countries are experiencing these and other problems as there seems to be little respite from the hot temperatures. 

As I thought about the many residents who have had to evacuate their houses and face the loss of their homes and the dangers faced by the fire crews, it also brought to mind that old adage, “There’s no smoke without fire”. Now, I know that has nothing to do with the situation in British Columbia, but, as my mind wandered, I pondered on the actual meaning of the saying. 

The Cambridge English Dictionary, gives the definition: “If unpleasant things are said about someone or something, there is probably a good reason for it”. That being said, we all know that gossip can be a harmful thing and things can get misconstrued and blown out of proportion. In the workplace, this can be especially harmful. In fact, in some companies, office gossip is prohibited. 

However, I wonder if there may be occasions, in business, when it’s worth taking an objective view and listen carefully to what people are saying and see if there is a pattern or something in a rumour that could possibly ring true. I also wondered if one could argue that some gossip can have a positive side.

I discovered an article “Office Gossip: It’s Not All Bad” by Margot Carmichael Lester, on the website, she quotes several sources to back up this idea, for example:
Travis Grosser, a doctoral candidate in management at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics tells us that “Information tends to move through informal communication networks with greater speed than through formal channels. The timeliness of incoming information often makes the difference as to whether or not we can act on it.”

Joey Price, HR specialist and founder of Push Consultant Group, a career counselling company in metro Washington, DC. states:  “Say you hear someone is leaving the company, creating an opening you’d like to fill. This kind of information can allow you to prepare a case for why you are best-suited for a promotion or raise,”

Chris Perry, founder of Career Rocketeer, a career-development and personal-branding service in Parsippany, New Jersey states “Sometimes office gossip recognizes the positive behaviours of others within an organization. That’s a good thing. For example, say Marc gossips to Ginny about a big account that Rose just landed. Not only does this make Rose look good, but it could also be the motivation Ginney needs to enhance her own sales skills to compete. That helps her career and the company’s bottom line. This can also help link you with people on the rise in the company. It also gives you an opportunity to potentially help that person succeed in some fashion. This kind of support may be repaid to you further down your career path.”

However, as Travis Grosser warns us, “While you can benefit from sharing the latest gossip, there’s definitely a fine line between sharing information and playing office politics. Negative gossip is used maliciously for character assassination and to undermine the success of others. Any gossip that attacks another individual and is of suspect veracity is not very constructive.”

In fact, Grosser’s research found that employees who gossip the most tend to get lower performance evaluations from their supervisors. “Gossiping creates more informal power with peers, but is seen as subversive and negative by supervisors. To stay out of trouble, be sure to spread only positive news.” Perry supports this by adding: “You don’t want to be branded as someone who initiates or spreads gossip about the company or people in it. This will hurt the company and will hurt your reputation and personal brand.”

In summarising Grosser concludes. “Gossip—whether positive or negative—can be a diagnostic tool for managers and supervisors. The gossip that circulates within an organization is an indicator of how employees feel and what they are thinking about.
For example, listening to gossip prior to or directly after a major organizational change is a good way for managers to learn how employees feel about the change and how they are adjusting to it.

Since everyone gossips—even managers—it’s unrealistic to think that you can—or should—steer completely clear of the office rumour mill. It’s highly unlikely that gossip will ever be completely eliminated from organizations. Good gossip, however, brings people together, instructs them on the organization’s ideals and how things should be done, and holds people up for heroic actions.” 

These are interesting perspectives. In business, we all have to be aware of the danger of malicious gossip. In the extreme, it has been known to destroy reputations and even end careers. But, having read what these contributors have to say, perhaps we might look a little more closely and determine the cause of all that “smoke” that’s smouldering in our workplace.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping for clear blue skies in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, is being released on October 9th 2018.

He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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