Researchers in my field of organizational behavior&theory have found that gossip in organizations provides some useful functions, like lubricating relationships, creating interpersonal bonds, allowing people to express their fears, and perhaps most important, offering people an informal way to make sense of what’s going on around them.
While it may be that gossip at work can be useful, gossip between Au Pairs can be very damaging.
[Yes, gossip between host parents can be bad too. We’ll talk about that in the next post, okay? Here, let’s focus on APs.]
There’s a fine line between gossip and telling your side of the story. And, there’s a fine line between wanting to damage the reputation of someone else and simply wanting to talk about a problem to get a better handle on it. But people are notoriously inconsistent in their abilities to rise above the drama and emotion of a tough situation– like a rematch, for example — and stay on the right side of these lines.
Personally, I’m a little concerned that some au pair will tell all of my friends all of my really crappy habits, like that I kiss the dog on her face, leave laundry in the washer for days on end, and swear like a pirate when trying to turn left at Watchung plaza. (There, my friends. Now you know my worst.)
But also, I was seriously stung by mean AP gossip, when our flameout au pair told everyone in town that we were mean (we aren’t) and that my husband “kicked her out of the house” when we wanted her to leave before her 2 weeks were up rather than have her in our house all alone while we were away on vacation. Lucky for me our LCC stood up for me and resisted the APs version of these events.
I have tried hard to be proactive regarding my concerns about Au Pair gossip.
First of all, I play by the rules. I try really hard not to give my APs a legitimate reason to be disgruntled.
Also, I cut them some slack. They need to gripe to their girlfriends too.
Here are two things you can try to prevent gossip:
1. Put some guidelines in your Au Pair handbook about privacy
Explicitly ask your AP not to talk about your family’s business with other APs. Explicitly promise that you will not talk about her personal business with other people, either.
2. Demonstrate and model discretion in your own conversations.
- Don’t gossip about others to your au pair.
- Explicitly show your own limits, by pointing right to that fine line between sensemaking and gossip.
When a gossip-inviting topic comes us, say things like “yes, there is more to the story, but I need to respect X’s privacy. I’m sure she doesn’t want folks talking about her car accident, so I’ll leave it at that”.
- Adjust/correct/ shape your kids’ behavior when they venture into gossipy territory.
Say things like “Well, I’m sure there are many sides to the story, and that X was doing her best. I think that’s all we should say about it.”
These behaviors do make me a little bit treacly– maybe verging on sanctimonious — because I can actually be a real bitch act bitchily too. But, I think of this gossip vs. discretion thing as yet another way that being a good Host Mom helps me be a better person overall.
But, that’s all about preventing problems.
So, what can you do when you discover that your AP has gossiped about you?
Anybody come up with a good strategy?