By Sarah Saunders, Telecommunicator, Grays Harbor E-911, IPSA Member
If you have worked in a 9-1-1 center, you can probably think of a few times when the center door has closed behind a co-worker and someone in the room immediately had something to say about them. Sometimes it is just a quick snarky comment, but sometimes it continues the entire time the person is out of the room. Gossip is one of the most detrimental things a co-worker can do. It brings down the morale of the center, causes rifts between employees and never brings anything positive to the work environment. Gossip is a waste of time, energy and focus. Gossip causes hurt feelings, irreparable damage to someone’s reputation and it can damage the reputation of the agency.
Gossip has existed a long time, but Socrates challenged others to think about the need for gossip when he said, “Gossip dies when it hits a wise person’s ears.” The truth is, gossip has probably existed as long as there have been humans around to hear it. It will probably continue as long as there are people alive to hear and discuss it. That doesn’t mean you can’t stop it from happening in your presence. When someone is brave enough to challenge others to stop using vicious and damaging words, it also challenges them to think about their need to gossip.
So how do you effectively stop gossip? Let’s talk about how dispatchers can wise-up and kill gossip the moment it starts. Here are seven tips and methods to stop gossip in its tracks and help your communications center thrive and survive in a gossip-free dispatch environment.
Seven tips to stop gossip
- Change the subject. Dispatchers have been taught to veer away from certain conversations with callers when it is detrimental to the call. This is no different. Allowing these conversations to take place is detrimental to the work environment.
- Remember your goals. Dispatchers want to be the best they can be at their jobs. They want to excel and grow, serve the public and make a difference. So, with those goals in mind, remove yourself from the conversation. Idle minds tend to gossip, so don’t lose track of your goals and ambitions. Keep yourself busy, and you will inevitably remove yourself from these painful conversations.
- Ignore it. Dispatchers don’t have to engage with co-workers when they chose to talk about someone else. While it’s not uncommon to want to be included in the room conversations, it can be guaranteed that at some point, you will also fall victim to your co-worker’s gossip and vicious words. If they are talking about one dispatcher, they are likely talking about all dispatchers, so don’t engage with them.
- Walk away. Have a plan or exit strategy in place ahead of time. If other’s start to gossip just walk away, or if you are inside the communications center, just turn away, back to your console.
- Focus on solutions, not problems. Not only do we have to treat our co-workers with empathy and compassion, but if someone is truly having a problem, we should try to help the employee and not just gossip about them. How can you help them to be better? If someone has been showing up to work late consistently the last two weeks, maybe your co-workers are right to be upset or concerned, but did anyone ask why? Did anyone ask what they can do to help him/her get there on time? Dispatchers don’t need to act above their wage, or step on the toes of a supervisor. Just treat your co-worker with compassion and help them problem solve. You might just be able to save their sanity or their job.
- Be the example. One of the best ways to stop gossip in the communications center, is to not get involved. It is impossible for anyone to stop gossip if they are an active participant. When someone starts in about a person’s sudden interest in dating a fellow first responder, just stop them in their tracks.
- Encourage positive conversation. By encouraging positive gossip, it satisfies the innate human “need to know” while keeping a positive environment and improving morale. Some examples of positive gossip include, “Hey, did you hear so-and-so had a CPR save yesterday? He/she did telephonic CPR for 10 minutes and he made it! I know he/she will be excited to get a lifesaving pin.” Or “I heard so-and-so got called into the Director’s office yesterday. Someone sent in a letter and flowers for his/her compassion during that difficult call.” Celebrate the successes and the victories of your co-workers.
It doesn’t matter which of these seven tips or methods you choose to take out of your dispatcher toolbox and use, all that matters is that you use them to stop gossip in its tracks. Everyone has an important decision to make every day, what kind of day will today be? Do we choose to think the best about people, about our co-workers around us, or do we make assumptions that everyone is out to make us have a bad day? Do we hold each other to a standard that doesn’t include or allow gossip or do we attack those very people that are there with you through thick and thin?
You have a choice to make every day. Choose to be kind, empathetic and compassionate with your co-workers.
Choose to be great.
About the Author
Sarah Saunders first sat behind a dispatch console at thirteen years old and has been dispatching full-time since 2001. Throughout her career, she has worked in multiple roles in Arizona and Washington, including dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, training coordinator, tactical dispatch team supervisor, certified instructor, systems security officer and CISM team member.
If you have any tips to share or want to provide feedback, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.