No Gossip photo from ShutterstockA simple strategy for improving your work environment, boosting your personal brand and feeling good is always speaking positively. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The best way to protect yourself at work from harming your reputation is to avoid negative speech! Even more, my mother would say, try to find something good about that person, focus on that quality and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Gossiping is the most obvious form of negative speech. I’m intrigued by why people need to gossip and what it does for a person that makes it so hard to resist. We all know that being the first is a praiseworthy trait in our society: The first person to invent an idea, the first to come up with a solution to a problem, the first to sight a trend and being first to purchase a new product brings status.

So, being the first to know something (may it be good or bad about another person) can be titillating and fool a person into thinking that this “knowing” something first and sharing it has some real value. The truth is that we have all gossiped at some point in our life and we may have gotten away with it, even enjoyed it and didn’t see the harm it precipitated. Taking a closer look at the ripple effect gossiping can have not only on others but also on oneself may cause a person to think twice before doing it again.

An often-overlooked problem with gossiping is that the person who delivers the bad news is associating himself or herself with negativity. When it comes to gossip, it makes no difference that the gossiper is the first to know something; as disseminating it doesn’t help anyone! In fact, just the contrary. It hurts the person being spoken about as well as the gossiper. It can cause someone to lose his or her job, break up a marriage or harm a good friendship.

Kids get bullied and some have taken their own lives because of a rumor that went viral through social media sharing. Similar damage can be inflicted on a business when a customer decides to go public with a criticism. A restaurateur of a small pizza shop in the Midwest recently shared with me some disturbing news that one disgruntled customer posted a negative blog about his business on a food blog and profit dived by 50% for that month! His concern is how to snuff out the bad press before it causes so much damage that he’s pushed into bankruptcy. While it’s true that the damage is most often noted to the person or business being slandered, don’t assume that the slanderer’s reputation stays untarnished.

One sure way to protect yourself at work and to avoid getting known as a negative personality is to avoid telling others anything negative about another co-worker, your boss or about a previous employer! Don’t assume others will agree with you or that it’s harmless sharing something unfavorable, even if it’s in jest. Be selective with whom you vent to! Identify one or two close friends or family member whom you trust and preferably who are not associated with your work to confide in when you have something negative you just need to unload.

There is positive communication that refers to words that can be constructive, helpful, supportive and even healing. Start identifying people at work and in your social sphere who are adept at using their speech to be supportive and uplifting. Try to model their style and heighten your sensitivity towards the value of lifting up another person. The effort you make in this area will develop your reputation/personal brand as a giver. Adam Grant writes in his book Give and Take that people who give are far more likely to attract positive attention that over time comes back to enhancing their success.

And then there’s negative communication. That’s the communication that gets people in trouble: It’s insidious, destructive, hurtful, diminishing and unflattering about another person. This negative speech can even come through body language! It’s anything that indicates something unsavory about a person or a group of people.

Spreading gossip has huge repercussions that aren’t always noticed immediately. It harms everyone involved including the gossiper, the listener and the person or business being insulted. The damage can cause permanent to the gossiper’s reputation, as one never knows if the person you’re telling really agrees or disagrees with your point of view.

The gossip recipient may feel strongly the opposite way and won’t reveal their feelings when you’re gossiping. But then when it comes time for your performance review, wham… they say you’re someone that’s hard to work with. Think of gossip as a mode of speech that’s beneath you, harmful like drinking poison and then just maybe you’ll able to snuff out the fiery impulse that says, just say it.