Jun 9, 2022 - Economy

Expose it all: How to kill office gossip

Illustration of a newspaper with the Axios logo and a thought bubble.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

One thing we wanted to fully purge from Axios from the get-go was internal drama — the whispering and gossipy wonderment that plagues and pollutes so many workplaces.

  • Our solution was radical transparency: Share everything with everybody so everyone felt in the loop and together.

Why it matters: By sharing everything other than how much someone makes or why someone left — those exceptions are out of respect for the individual — we mostly eliminated the suspicion and resentment that flows so easily from not knowing what’s really going on.

  • We also treat people like reasonable adults and simply ask others to do the same.
  • This has helped create a more dynamic, trusting culture at Axios.

The backstory: Before we started Axios, four of us — Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz, Kayla Cook and I — spent countless hours reflecting on our time at Politico and dreaming up the ideal culture for a yet-unnamed company.

We wanted to work with insanely talented people, but also insanely good people, in a wildly ambitious but truly enjoyable workplace.

  • To do this, we knew we would need to be intolerant of jackasses and mischief-makers, but also come up with mechanisms to spread trust.
  • A key component was treating adults like adults and trusting them with sensitive information and nuance. Our theory was that it's hard to be suspicious or feel left out if you see your bosses being trusting and transparent.

Here are three things we do that might be helpful in other settings:

1. Overshare. In relationships, at work, as leaders, you build trust by being open and honest, constantly and consistently. You cannot say you are transparent; you show it with hundreds of little acts of openness.

  • At Axios, we write a Sunday newsletter to all full-time staff with a candid, behind-the-curtain look at what we are doing and why.

2. Take tough questions. One of the hardest but best things we do is take questions anonymously every Monday, read them verbatim even if it hurts, and answer forthrightly and non-defensively.

  • Make no mistake; this can be hard. We went through a short season a few years back where a few people wrote in questions aimed at rattling me. Some execs wanted to stop the practice because it was uncomfortable. But we did not — and hopefully it showed we were transparent even when it was a drag.

3. Resist retreat. Twice, someone on staff leaked private Axios discussions, presumably to embarrass a colleague or stir trouble. My initial reaction was annoyance — and then a fleeting thought that we needed to stop being so transparent.

  • But then I realized the good of thousands of conversations kept secret far outweighs the bad of two conversations leaked.

The bottom line... It’s true in work and life: Demystifying things with candor and transparency eliminates a lot of the needless drama and sneaky suspicion.

Go deeper