Especially if someone’s done something wrong or fascinating, if we're honest about it, most of us love a good gossip.
It’s exciting to get new information that might be important and sometimes talking about this stuff with a colleague we trust seems so harmless.
But however much I'm enjoying myself, I also watch step back and watch myself and think ‘Hmm. Perhaps not your finest hour, Ellie’. Have you ever done this? I really hope it's not just me!
The experience of a friend made me realise how damaging gossip can be.
He was not able to work clinically as a midwife because he’d hurt his neck in a minor car collision. It was a short-term problem but it meant he’d be doing computer work, rather than labour ward care, for a while.
While he was working in the back offices he heard some other midwives discussing his injury, whether it was real or not and whether it was appropriate to give him computer work to do.
These were probably comments coming from the frustration of being short staffed and then the conversation ran away with itself. But they really hurt the feelings of their colleague who was still shocked over the car crash. I’m not sure you ever trust anyone fully again when you’ve heard them chatting about whether or not you’re faking an injury. Common sense suggests this kind of situation isn’t going to have a brilliant effect on teamwork.
Brené Brown, the social scientist grounded theory researcher talks about trust being made or broken in tiny moments. She uses the metaphor of marbles being added or taken away from a jar, a technique used by her child’s primary school teacher to show when the class was making good or bad decisions.
Trust is like this. If a midwife or student remembers your name, asks how the woman you’re caring for is doing, or is genuinely interested in something you’re doing out of work, marbles are being added to the jar.
If you snap at someone, gossip about them, or even gossip with them about someone else (we forget this – gossiping about other people erodes trust just as much as when you hear gossip about yourself) marbles are being removed.
We should try and hold on to our marbles in midwifery!!
The worst time I’ve been involved in gossip in midwifery was when I was trying to defend myself against an accusation I’d got care wrong. I wasn’t to blame – but I found myself outlining exactly what another midwife had done wrong and that I had nothing to do with it.
Oh Ellie. Angrily talking about someone else’s care is nothing to do with reporting issues for safety and trying to correct them, and all about defending yourself and enjoying having a rant.
These days, I try really hard not to gossip, even if it seems innocent. I even have some phrases planned so I can remove myself from the situation as gracefully as possible.
I don’t find it’s a good idea to say ‘I don’t gossip, it’s not nice’ as this tends to get people’s backs up and if you ever pretend to be holier than thou, this will come and bite you in the bum at some stage, no?
Helpful things to say to discharge the situation include:
I don’t know her very well.
I haven’t seen enough of her practice to judge.
I wasn’t there that day, I don’t know what happened.
I really don’t know a lot about that case.
I really like her. I wonder if there’s something we can do for her?
That's not my experience of that team.
I can’t imagine how hard that must be, it sounds like a struggle for her.
The amazing this about this particular aspect of midwifery is that you’re completely in control of it. There’s always a way to either bring the conversation back around to constructive attention, encouragement, success and joy – or if there’s not you can leave or say you don’t know enough to contribute. Simples.
What are your thoughts on gossip in midwifery? Anything to share? Can we eradicate this?
To kindness in midwifery,
P.S. I’m really looking forward to a conversation about this at The Kindness Conference.