The Real Deal
September, 2004

GOSSIP HURTING THE INDUSTRY

By Esther Muller

“Fair words never hurt the tongue.”
— George Chapman, seventeenth century English poet.

After a few recent instances where my colleagues’ words scorched professional earth like runaway forest fires, I find myself wishing that more of my fellow real estate brokers would take Chapman’s wise words to heart. 

Allow me to share a couple of examples. While enjoying an evening out at a real estate event with a friend of mine, another colleague came over and blurted out to my friend, “I heard how you treated your ex-husband!”  Needless to say, we were both shocked at this woman’s indiscreet and unprofessional outburst. Later, I found out that she got this alleged tidbit from my friend’s doorman. 

At another event, also related to real estate, I heard biting words about
one of our industry’s rising stars — an acquaintance of mine. The verbal venom took my breath away. What dismayed me — and many others in attendance — was the casual ease with which others partook in what I can only describe as a conversational lynching. 

What is particularly sad is that the allegations from both incidents were completely false. Yet they were said — and spread — as if they were the truth.  Unfortunately, these two incidents are not aberrations; they are becoming more and more commonplace, and accepted, within our industry.  It’s not just a lack of civility that bothers me — it’s the idea that the malicious chatter of a few will discredit most of us. 

“Words have the ability to create their own reality,” says Allan Schranz, who has lectured on the power and impact of language. Hurtful, spiteful words can take on a life of their own. Truthful or not, they can have a severe, devastating impact on a person’s reputation or career. According to a Gannet News Service article that quotes Schranz, “gossip can undermine workplace morale, affect productivity and lead to bottom-line problems.” Some people engage in this activity for a specific reason. “They know the consequences of their actions,” says Schranz. “For them, this is a strategic way to advance their own cause.” 

We’ve all gossiped, but have we ever considered the consequences of our words? “Negative language not only reflects badly about the person you are speaking of,” says Schranz. “It also reflects poorly on you.” 

Think about what’s at stake: if Broker A will say something negative about Broker B, what is he saying about you or me? Would I really want to work
with — or trust — Broker A, knowing that he may speak negatively of me?
 

So what can we do? A suggestion: we need to become more verbally aware and more sensitive as to how our words may affect others. “People have to be trained to listen to themselves,” says Schranz. This can be extremely revealing. We may not like what we hear, but we can learn from it. 

This business is full of talented professionals. When was the last time you offered a compliment to a colleague on his or her exceptional work? Nobody has ever resented receiving praise, says Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., the linguist and author of the book “Talking From 9 to 5.” By building up another person, you create a positive reputation for yourself, as well as creating a foundation of trust and goodwill, all of which you may need for a challenging deal that requires outside assistance. 

The next time you feel the urge to gossip, stop. You may accomplish more by saying nothing at all.