Proctor : October 2018
55 PROCTOR | October 2018 Did you hear about Wolverine? Imagining life after the gossip ban This month, I have to start with a disclaimer about this column. I realise that, over the years, my column has been put to many uses – plugging mouse-holes, as a drop-sheet under the guy in the lunchroom who chews with his mouth open, and as a cautionary tale along the lines of idle hands doing the devil’s work – all of which are fine uses for it. Certainly, they are far more beneficial than actually reading it, unless you are collecting evidence in support of switching to robot lawyers. What you cannot do, however, is use the content of the column for gossip, which has recently been identified as the most evil force on the planet other than Manchester City, now that Osama Bin Laden is dead. If you aren’t as in tune with the legal zeitgeist (literally, ‘zit cream’) as I am, you may not have heard that anti-gossip clauses are the new black when it comes to employment contracts. Now you may think that the idea of banning gossip is bad, given that it is almost Trumpian in its pointlessness, stupidity and lack of practical possibility (“I will build a wall against gossip, and North Korea will pay for it!”), but there are some positives. For a start, if employers have the time and resources to ban gossip in employment contracts (I mean putting the ban in the contracts, not banning gossip in the contract wording itself) it must mean that they have cleansed their workplaces of real problems, such as sexism, racism and bullying, which is clearly a good thing. Also, however, banning gossip should mean the end of ‘reality’ TV shows, because they seem largely to exist to give people the chance to talk incessantly about the qualities of people they don’t know, based on the scripted conversations these people have with one another while sitting around the set of a TV show. In short, you could get more reality from watching a conversation between the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Phil Gould. There are some downsides to banning gossip, however, in that it might make general conversation at work problematic, in the same sense that our federal parliament is problematic, albeit with fewer childish insults. In fact, now that I think about it, the ban on gossip should probably not extend to politics, because gossip is the major – and perhaps only – policy driver in Canberra at the moment. Workplace conversations will now be a little different too. In order to help you navigate work discourse in this brave new world, I have prepared the following handy chart: Before gossip ban After gossip ban “Good morning” “I hereby non-judgmentally acknowledge your presence this morning, without in any way suggesting that it is good, bad or indifferent, or implying that you should feel any particular way about the day or any part thereof.” “How was your weekend?” “I fully and completely understand that whatever you did (or did not do) on the weekend is none of my business and I apologise unreservedly if you feel that I have contravened your privacy in any way.” “Is Donald Trump stupid, or what?” “Is Donald Trump stupid, or what?” 1 To see how this might play out in the real world, I have prepared the following case study. As a bonus, doing the case study will allow you to claim a CPD point in Ethics. 2 Alice: Did you see Jenny’s engagement ring? It’s beautiful, she and Tom make a great couple; I am so happy for them! Bob (consulting procedures manual): Sorry, those topics are not on the approved list. Also, I have to report you to HR, the CCC and several other capital letters for implying that Jenny is overly materialistic, celebrating Tom’s attempted exploitation of Jenny via their difference in financial means, and bullying any couple not named Tom and Jenny via exclusion aggression. For future reference, acceptable topics of conversation include the annual report, the joys of process-mapping and the bus timetable. Alice: I am going back to my uni job of sorting recyclable products from medical waste. Although I have taken a somewhat flippant approach to this issue, in my defence I would like to point out that I do that with every issue (a good title for this column would be ‘Somewhat Flippant’). I also point out that I in no way condone gossip, partly because it can be hurtful and also harm productivity, but mostly because it is almost never about anything interesting, by which I mean me. Hopefully, you are now aware of the dangers of gossip and will think twice before you compliment co-workers on their outfit or wish them well on their holidays. Of course, many of you will have become addicted to gossip over the years, and may be unable to go ‘cold turkey’, so if you must gossip I will leave you with this: have you noticed that you never see me and Wolverine in the same room? Think about it... Suburban cowboy by Shane Budden © Shane Budden 2018. Shane Budden is a Queensland Law Society ethics solicitor. Notes 1 Some things transcend gossip. 2 NB: Claim may not be accepted.