Workplace gossip happens everywhere, so it’s about time we learned how to do it well! Let’s face it–gossip helps us build relationships, understand norms, address bad behavior, and have fun! Unfortunately, gossip has gotten a bad rap…until now.
Researchers define gossip as “talking about someone who is not present” and, according to research, people spend an average of 52 minutes a day gossiping. Gossip is not always negative. In fact, as one study found, most if gossip is actually neutral, and according to researchers – boring.
Since we have this strong impulse to gossip, it is important to get it right and to do it in a way that is not destructive to the workplace. Gossip has a bad rap, and for good reason, but it allows us to feel closer to others at work and can raise trust and intimacy. It also allows us to form workplace norms and to pass on information to others about those norms – and it builds cooperation. And even though gossip can hurt – it drives self-reflection.
The problem with gossip is that unless it is done well, it can cause significant negative impacts in the workplace. Just as gossip can build trust, gossip can erode trust. Gossip can waiste our time and cause anxiety. And of course, gossip can cause hurt feelings and create divisiveness in the workplace.
It is really important to gossip well. Crina and Kirsten have some suggestions:
- Focus on the behavior, not the person
- Avoid triangulation
- Focus on our own experiences, not representing someone else’s
- Understand the difference between valid information and hearsay
- Keep it “above the belt” Don’t talk or make up crappy stories
- Be aware of the narrative you’re creating about yourself when you gossip!
- Don’t use gossip as a way to damage someone or as a mechanism to get ahead
- Don’t distort the truth or embellish (remember the game of telephone?)
- Stay away from gossip over email or in writing.
We are going to gossip in the workplace because we are, well, human, so let’s get it right at work!