Office Culture, when conversations turn toxic

When we updated our Employee Manual to adjust for Remote Work, we added a section called “Professional Interpersonal Communication”. The section is our attempt to define what we mean by unprofessional communication between people in the workplace. There are several good articles on workplace culture and what some have called Triangulation. Linked has this post from an HR coach and I also found this definition:

Triangulation occurs when two or more people get together and talk negatively about or plot against a third person or group. (reference)

In the break room, Chris says to Lori:

“Were you on that Slack call with Bob? Does he even know how to use a computer?”


“Wow, that new ‘marketing plan’ (air quotes) is genius, that will be an epic fail.”


“I know what she said, but you know they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Those are examples of “office gossip” or a “culture of griping” that we have all been around at one time or another. Humans, some humans anyway, create coalitions naturally as part of group behavior. People have friends, and friends talk about their other friends, and people who are not their friends. That’s normal. But when it is directed against someone, or against a team or project, it’s not good. In fact it’s toxic. It’s the fastest way for teams to split or spin apart.

The line between normal human conversation and a comment that is bad for the team can be hard to understand, and no doubt people cross it all time unintentionally as well as intentionally. My point is this: when you are in that environment and someone says something negative about another person, or about a company initiative, ask yourself a question:

Am I in a position to do anything about this person’s complaint? If you are not, then why is this person telling me this?

If you are not, then the reason they are griping is to get you to agree. Then the two of you are a team against the thing you are both now complaining about. But that’s the point. By engaging you join the splitters, not the people trying to pull the team together.

This is the section from the new Employee Manual:

TMLS is committed to maintaining a productive workplace in which all employees are treated with respect and the organization receives feedback in an appropriate manner. We depend on employees to communicate professionally with coworkers, subscribers, and all stakeholders so that TMLS runs as effectively as possible.

Every employee’s feedback is valued, and necessary for the Company to be successful. You are encouraged to share your feedback with those who are in a position to act so that solutions are reached instead of sharing with those who cannot act and creating acrimony and conflict. In accordance with our Open Door policy, all employees are expected to share concerns about a coworker, Company initiative, or project with their manager or supervisor.

Nothing in this policy shall or is intended to interfere or in any way restrain employees from exercising their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. For examples and guidance regarding this policy, speak with your manager or supervisor.

TMLS Employee Manual – Updated August 2023