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January 7, 2015

The Sony Hack Reveals the Cost of Gossip and the Value of Candor

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While “The Interview” may or may not be worth seeing, the hacking attack against its maker, Sony Pictures Entertainment, has certainly proved entertaining. Not only did the hackers release personal information about Sony studio employees, including their salaries and medical information, they also released details of upcoming movies, company financial information and other critical details.

The release of emails from studio executives garnered the most attention. That’s because they were full of catty Hollywood gossip – nasty words about Angelina Jolie, ill-considered comments about President Obama and lots of other snark that was never meant to see the light of day.At CLG, we define gossip as things you would not say if the person you are talking about were present. Gossip is often mean-spirited, it creates an us-versus-them dynamic on teams and allows the gossipers to be right about something at the expense of someone else.In our experience, successful leaders and their colleagues commit to ending gossip, talk directly to the people with whom they have issues or concerns and encourage others to do the same. (This is the fifth commitment of conscious leaders.)

The reason we are so down on gossip is that we’ve seen how it destroys teams, creates distance from colleagues and prevents important issues from being surfaced and dealt with.So what would be the opposite of gossip? It would be recognizing that we have a complaint, issue or some other relationship glitch with someone and going directly to them to resolve it. (One of the fundamental changes we bring to our client organizations is a process for people to constructively air disagreements and turn them into opportunities for connection.)

Gossip masks an opportunity to connect with someone else and clear up issues. Conscious relationship in the workplace seizes that opportunity and brings teams closer together. When you feel the urge to gossip, look beneath the surface and see the complaint you have about the object of your gossip, take a few deep breaths and ask them if they have a minute to discuss what’s really bothering you.This is also an excellent opportunity to practice the commitment to candor (number 4): I commit to saying what is true for me. I commit to being a person to whom others can express themselves with candor.When Sigmund Freud was asked to summarize his work, he said “secrets make you sick.”

The same is also true for organizations — the companies I’ve seen that have the most secrets are also the most politicized, bureaucratized and dysfunctional. They also have the most to lose once those secrets leak out — as they always do.So in the case of Sony Pictures, instead of releasing frustration by calling Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” the studio chief could raise her concerns about Jolie’s work directly with her, creating the opportunity for deeper understanding, stronger connection and perhaps even better performance from Jolie. In addition, revealing this secret would have given the hackers nothing to release for public titillation.

So while there will be much discussion of how companies can create more secure computer systems to prevent future hacking attacks, it’s worth considering the value of using candor and connection to reduce the number of secrets that need to be safeguarded in the first place.

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