Friday, June 12, 2015

Let's Talk About Gossip

The mission of The Domestic Staff Citizen does not rely on gossip for its success. And your career doesn't need to, either.


I'm always a little perplexed when I see written on a job posting, "Must be willing to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement," because, I'm then thinking, is anyone reading that requirement and then saying to themselves, No, I'll pass on this job, because I just can't work somewhere that won't allow me to be a blabber mouth... ?  

I'm of the mindset that the best way to deal with a problem is not to ignore it, or to let's its fear control you, yet to face it - head on. Handing someone a document to sign and then telling them to zip it, is really more about establishing control than it is about preventing a problem, and even at that, it doesn't do a very good job. In fact, NDAs don't really do very much at all - in the real world of how people actually behave, anyway - except create resentment for a lack of honest, open two-way communication.

Behavior problems, in my experience, are best addressed honestly, forthrightly, person-to-person, and out in the open, because that approach has an amazing and deflating power over the problem itself. It puts you - not the problem, nor the problem employee - back in full control, and back in real power. Talking openly and honestly about what could go wrong in a private household staff - and then examining with your staff what it takes to avert the destruction and getting their cooperation, will always be more effective than a grand pronouncement.

Power, fear, elation, and destruction...
gossip is the original multi-task.

The Citizen has covered this very topic before, in Creating The No Gossip Zone, i.e., how you can take control of the situation on your domestic staff team - and declare gossip unacceptable. This does work, indeed, where the authority of the declaration is both credible and enforceable. Yet as everyone reading this knows, that is not always the case on privately staffed estates whose Estate Managers often find themselves authorized to lightly supervise their team members, yet not actually authorized to manage them. Are other approaches viable?  And, what can be done, for instance, where destructive household gossip runs wild among a staff and there is no accountability? Perhaps it's best to backtrack a bit first, and look at what gossip really is, and why it plagues us so.

I found perhaps the most interesting article here, which describes how gossip, apparently, played an important function in the building of communities as far back as can be discovered, sometime between Neanderthal Man and the early 1950s. Gossip is, according to the article, connected to the very survival of individuals, themselves, and even more interestingly, a characteristic unique to the human race - because humans have a great fear of being talked about and reputations suffering and, therefore, will remain on their best behavior to avoid becoming isolated in their communities.

It goes something like this:

The ultimate consequence of being isolated was the individual did not, let's just say in the company of polite readership, have as much opportunity for their DNA to be shared 
Gossip isn't just for Neanderthals anymore...
...it's also a mod desire!
with others - and, thus ultimately, their genes not surviving throughout time itself. Apparently, being the last version of oneself is not ideal to most people, and throughout the history of time, crafty humans have devised ways to manipulate that very fear in others. Introducing: gossip, the way people can control others without having to actually confront them. Cowardly, yet still very effective.


In modern day times, though, that also means, in addition to restraining oneself and engaging in acceptable social behaviors in order to not be gossiped about and thus potentially retain the ability to produce offspring with a suitable partner, is trying to ensure those nearby with lessor power don't gossip about those who hold more (i.e., economic power) over them, and the former are threatened with sufficient consequence to prevent them from tweeting out any indiscretions which may slip out into their view. Hence, we witness the modern day and ubiquitous Non-Disclosure Agreement - an attempt at the dual purpose of keeping one's DNA lineage intact... and the Nanny in line.

However, Non-Disclosure Agreements always seem to me like those cheap five dollar combination padlocks you often see on household goods storage lockers: they'll certainly keep out the honest people, but not anyone actually interested in taking just a few seconds to clip off the lock and help themselves to whatever's inside. 

My advice to staff is to sign the NDA as a matter of protocol, yet you'll need to also provide your manager, principal, et al, daily displays of behavior which do not call your character into question. And my advice to managers, principals, et al, themselves, is to stop foolishly relying on indecipherable threats written on paper and stashed away in the back drawers of old file cabinets, in some semblance of an attempt (which will fail) to actually manage your staff.

*****

But now, back to our own mission at The Citizen. Anyone who has met me over the past twenty-six years, or has actually read any of my 100+ posts over the past four, knows that I'm probably the person least likely to be voted into the domestic industry gossip hall of fame; that I do not covet the power of naughty secrets; that news about "celebrities" does not titillate me; and that I have, basically, chosen to see past the primordial fear of gossip and to listen, learn, and develop myself professionally in a positive manner.

However, it's a tough sell to those who don't know me, and who will equate the speaking of any domestic worker with that of "tell-all" styled writings, because, sadly, that's all they may have ever known

I do hope this blog - which is devoid of household gossip or celebrity news for its entire history - will eventually help to change that idiotically misguided viewpoint. After all, there's some bad drivers out there, too, but should we really abandon all cars and walk to the opera instead?

If people can see past their fear of gossip, and not letting that fear prevent them from benefiting from the positive aspects of hearing a domestic worker provide some advice on effective estate management; and not simply seeing the Neanderthal-styled destruction of which both domestic workers and everyone else will continue to be capable of; it will be a better world for the industry and, most of all, for estate owners.

To now clarify....
  • Despite gossip purportedly playing a role in shaping societies, it remains, as Pope Francis succinctly once defined it: The sickness of the cowardly.
  • Gossip can be effectively controlled on your estate, yet it won't happen with a threat written on a piece of paper from the attorney. The No-Gossip Zone can be a reality, if the Principals choose to support the Estate Manager and to allow him/her to eliminate gossip.  And - just as with having one's home run like a five star hotel - it's a choice, through either action or inaction - a choice that all estate owners will make.
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements can't stop domestic staff gossip. But good managers can.
  • Although a few gossipy blogs and tell-all books written in the past by a few domestic workers seeking their fifteen minutes of fame have given the general public an unfortunate illusion that all domestic workers are bad seeds, the fact is that very few domestics on the Internet, or anywhere else, are actually disclosing household secrets. A few people are making everyone else look bad. Sadly.
  • The mission of The Domestic Staff Citizen does not rely on gossip for its success. And your career doesn't need to, either.




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