It’s everywhere: in canteens and corridors, over fences, phone lines, and Facebook.
Like Creeping Buttercup monopolising a garden lawn, gossip relentlessly spreads across our frontlines. How do you deal with this particularly persistent weed when it surfaces?
For Sue, a dental nurse at a large practice in the North, responding to gossip is as much part of her job as holding a saliva ejector in a patient’s mouth while they have their first molar filled.
‘The way I respond to gossip is one of the biggest ways I can be a witness to my colleagues’, explains Sue. Listening to her describe what she does, Sue seems to have two basic rules that she follows. One: don’t get drawn in. As soon as she can tell that a conversation is heading down this particular avenue, she will simply say something to the effect of, ‘As a Christian, talking about somebody like this is not consistent with my faith’. Then rule number two: focus on resolution. What needs to be done to sort this out?
Here’s what it looked like one particular Wednesday afternoon. At the end of a shift, Jen, a colleague in her twenties, sidled up to Sue, clearly in distress. Sue led her into the x-ray room; a 2.5 by 2.5 metre cube with no chairs in it – just a scanning machine, safety screen, and computer equipment. It’s Sue’s custom to conduct her ministry in this spartan room – it’s the place conversations are least likely to be overheard or gain uninvited participants.
The problem that Jen was having was this: Alison, the dentist Jen usually worked alongside, was about to return from maternity leave. Jen was feeling acutely anxious about how she would cope with her coming back, because before Alison went off to have her baby, working alongside her was like pulling teeth.
Sue listened carefully and caringly, taking time to understand how Jen felt, while at the same time being careful not to denigrate the soon-returning Alison in the process. Not knowing exactly how this predicament could be resolved, Sue offered to pray, and the offer was joyfully accepted. There and then, Sue prayed that Jen would experience calm and peace about the whole situation, and that God would guide Jen in knowing what to do.
Following the prayer, Sue offered to speak to the practice manager about what was going on. Again, Jen agreed. When Alison returned to work, the manager met with these two warring colleagues, and they were able to sort out their differences and find a way to work together. It was a great result for Jen, for Alison, and for the practice and the patients they serve.
Often, we are afraid to deal with gossip in the way Sue does for fear of making the gossiper feel bad and ruining our relationship with them in the process. But what Sue has found is the complete opposite. It’s exactly because Sue doesn’t engage in gossip that her colleagues choose to confide in her, because they know Sue can be trusted. Sue has become the one they turn to for wisdom when they want to sort a problem out.