Anne 🐝 Thornley-Brown, MBA

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Backbiting: A Symptom of Toxic Work Cultures

Backbiting is a sure-fire symptom of a toxic work culture. In fact, not only does it run rampant in corporate cultures that are deteriorating and it is guaranteed to de-stabilize any corporate culture further.


WHAT IS BACKBITING?


Backbiting: A Symptom of Toxic Work CulturesDefinition: To slander the absent, like a dog biting behind the back, where one cannot see; to go about as a talebearer.

Backbiting is not giving feedback. It is cowardly, hostile and passive aggressive behaviour

Backstabbing, backbiting and complaining about team members without first trying to resolve issues with them privately and directly plays out in a highly destructive manner in corporations. It can jeopardize a professional’s reputation and livelihood. Nothing destroys team spirit and harmony more quickly.

In corporate environments, overt aggression is a career limiting move so people resort to backbiting, sniping at people behind their backs, and other passive-aggressive behaviour

It's the corporate equivalent of guerilla warfare and it's deadly. In a corporate environment, backbiting always leaves reputations and careers in ruins. It's a cover operation so individuals have no way to defend themselves against it.


Backbiting and Cultural Influences


No culture is perfect. Every culture has negative and maladaptive behaviour. It's part of the human condition. 

I live in Canada which I often describe as a "culture of denial". Rather than addressing issues directly and, heaven forbid, getting into  a conflict, people tend to ignore the elephant in the room. They hide their true feelings behind a veneer of "politeness" and that perpetual plastic smile. 

One of my acting coaches, the late Jacqueline MccLintock, wisely used to observe that it is not "politeness" at play, it's dishonesty. She also used to point out that the "fake smile" is not a sign of friendship, it's a sign of aggression. "Dogs bare their teeth when they are angry and about to attack." It's a warning sign. 

"Don't let the smile fool you." 

Perhaps it is my Jamaican background that makes this type of backbiting particularly distasteful to me. Jamaicans have a strong cultural bias against backbiting.

Jamaican Proverbs

Popular Jamaican saying about backbiting include:
“Carry go bring come is a very dangerous thing”.
(Backbiting, carrying news and gossip, called suss-suss, are dangerous.)

Suss-suss=gossip.

Consider the lyrics of this reggae song:


Direct and Honest Feedback: The Best Approach to Harmonious Team Relationships

Come on people it's not that hard. "Grow some cajones". Yes Jacqueline, may she rest in peace, used to say that too.

Do what you have to do. Go for a walk if you need it. Calm down and then speak with the person privately about your concerns. It's an approach that is as old as the Bible and it works.

What the Bible says about Backbiting

This type of behaviour has been around since the dawn of time. In fact, backbiting is even addressed in the Bible and literally translated as “a third person’s tongue.” It is sometimes referred to as “tale-bearing”.

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.


The alternative? It's simple.

"If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." Matthew 18:15

On this Good Friday morning, as we head out to church, endeavour to do better in future. We'll have healthier corporate cultures as a result.

Photo Credit: Shimona Carvalho (Flickr)
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Comments

#18
Culture definitely plays a role in this. I don't know much about Japanese culture but a friend of mine who is of that heritage indicated that, within that culture, the tale-bearer carries news as a way of currying favour or getting into the good graces of the person to whom they are carrying the news. The experience under that scenario is Person A goes to Person B with gossip about Person C. Person B listens and then goes to Person C and reports what has happened. When that happens, the way to put a stop to it is to say "Okay let's go to Person A right now and address it directly with them." Person A and B will usually get scared and discontinue the practice. If you just go to Person A and confront them, it doesn't work as well as Person A will deny the whole thing. What a mess and what a waste of productivity.

#16
So many great thoughts here from all of you. I want to address couple of things. Harvey, you are right. The fact that Matthew 18:15 is followed up with vs 16 & 17 is indicative of the fact that Our Lord knew that there would be those who are too hard of heart to respond to a private discussion to resolve the situation. One has to be careful. If you are a manager, you can bring the 2 parties in if attempts to resolve on their own don't work. As a co-worker, the backbiter will likely turn on you. It takes fostering a corporate culture where this type or behaviour is not acceptable so that the backbiter cannot find a willing ear. That is tough to do. I didn't realize that Covey had written about this. I have to go and look this up. Backbiting is rampant in corporations. It is surprising that so little has been written about it. It comes up quite often in Jamaican reggae music so I guess if a culture abhors this practice it is discussed more.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

4 years ago #15

Great advice, Anne. I find the human relations principles we practice at work are easily transferred to our personal lives and vice versa. Toxic people are at the heart of all toxic relationships (workplace or otherwise) and they only have a voice if we listen to, and tolerate them. Will share this for you.

Donald 🐝 Grandy PN

4 years ago #14

Thanks for this article very relevant. Love this "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." Matthew 18:15. Have a Blessed weekend.

Harvey Lloyd

4 years ago #13

Great thoughts here and suggestions on dealing with back-biting or office politics. I have always found that the act of gossip/back-biting is fulfilling something in the biter. Most often it is the need for affirmation. The discouraging part of this is two fold. One the social disease that it promotes and the second.....well you cant carry around the need for more juice for gossip and meet performance expectations. If affirmation is what they seek then give it to them. Sounds counter intuitive but is the real basis of Matthew 18:15. The gossiper has stumbled across a situation where they are focused on how they can use the details to highlight themselves. Disregarding the person who is actaully dealing with the situation and their position. Steven Covey offers the method of understanding the basis of the gossip, discerning the source of the gossip and their needs and reflecting this back to the gossiper. Then recommending that both of you go and sit-down with the person at the center of the gossip and offer support. This will stop the person from seeking your vote within the gossip chain and/or redirect the gossip into a functional team support effort. I find all to often that, like the backbiter, we condemn the person and continue the process. Exposing the backbiters needs that are fulfilled by the process is a much more effective way of dealing with them. They will run from the exposure or you will have helped someone change their character.

David Navarro López

4 years ago #12

When I read such challenging posts like the one of yours, I use to "ruminate it" a while before making a comment, as I understand writing such a post, and the work it takes deserves a well-reasoned comment. I am not too sure of the benefits of using Matthew 18:15 with toxic people. If the backbiting is due to unconsciousness, or not thinking twice what it was said, maybe. In my experience, if you try to solve the matter face to face with a "toxic", it can happen two things: -They act like they don't know what you are talking about -They claim they are right to backbite you, as you are doing things wrong. In both cases, you gain a frontal enemy afterwards. If there is a bigger "purpose", like good team work environment, for both parties, and for both this bigger purpose is a real target more than private considerations, then for the sake of it the "offender" could fold back and could be "won". But normally "toxic people" have no other purpose than themselves, and would not accept other that YOU folding back, if ever. In my opinion, with this kind of people it only works the following versicles of Matthew 18 you mentioned: "16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." In all, in our forthcoming post, the things you are sharing really deserve a subchapter on itself. "Backbiting, a symptom of toxic work cultures: How to deal with it?" I am sure they will provoke many fruitful comments.

David Navarro López

4 years ago #11

When I read such challenging posts like the one of yours, I use to "ruminate it" a while before making a comment, as I understand writing such a post, and the work it takes deserves a well-reasoned comment. I am not too sure of the benefits of using Matthew 18:15 with toxic people. If the backbiting is due to unconsciousness, or not thinking twice what it was said, maybe. In my experience, if you try to solve the matter face to face with a "toxic", it can happen two things: -They act like they don't know what you are talking about -They claim they are right to backbite you, as you are doing things wrong. In both cases, you gain a frontal enemy afterwards. If there is a bigger "purpose", like good team work environment, for both parties, and for both this bigger purpose is a real target more than private considerations, then for the sake of it the "offender" could fold back and could be "won". But normally "toxic people" have no other purpose than themselves, and would not accept other that YOU folding back, if ever. In my opinion, with this kind of people it only works the following versicles of Matthew 18 you mentioned: "16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." In all, in our forthcoming post, the things you are sharing really deserve a subchapter on itself. "Backbiting, a symptom of toxic work cultures: How to deal with it?" I am sure they will provoke many fruitful comments.

Randall Burns

4 years ago #10

Great article @Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA. Great quote, I'm a big fan of Black Uhuru, (having lived in the Caribbean for 20 years I really appreciate the Reggae perspective)

#6
Thank you. I will have a look..

Oh, so true, Anne.

#7
Thank you David Navarro L\u00f3pez for tagging me to this wonderful buzz by @Anne Thorney-Brown. We should include it for sure in our forthcoming post on tocxicity

a great post thanks Anne.

David Navarro López

4 years ago #5

Wonderful post, thank you for sharing it to the hive "toxicity" It is refreshing to read someone who has so much knowledge about the book of the books...We always need to be remembered about the basics...great contribution, thank you. Ali Anani this post is a must read.

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #4

Hi Anne, take a look at this piece from Judiasm 101 about "improper speech" or Speech and Lashon-Ha-Ra. It deals with why tale-bearing or gossip is considered to one of the great harms but it also outlines when tale-bearing is acceptable. http://www.jewfaq.org/speech.htm It fits with what your buzz is about especially the admonition in it citing "The person who listens to gossip is even worse than the person who tells it, because no harm could be done by gossip if no one listened to it."

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

4 years ago #3

Indeed, back-biting is the worst trait that erupts from villainous tongues. Unfortunately, back-biting sows dissension and hatred in hearts and mars human relationships.

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

4 years ago #2

Indeed, back-biting is the worst trait that erupts from villainous tongues. Unfortunately, back-breaking sows dissension and hatred in hearts and mars human relationships.

Great stuff Anne, i wil share this...because backbitters were trained at school to bully, because no one stop them, neither the parents did nor the school administration, nor their supervisors as young adults...so why would they stop their toxicity....

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