In my experience, we all gossip at work, even though we all say that we don't like it -- especially when the gossip is about us! I always advise my executive coaching clients to discourage gossip because it can create so much dissension and instability among teams, and can even lead to legal claims for harassment and slander. In fact, the best managers and executives I know discourage gossip and encourage direct and useful communication to the person who has the power to change the situation. Yet an intriguing new study points out the benefits of gossip.
What the researchers found, was that gossip was ancient and in fact, a part of our anthropological origins, a kind of social "grooming" that allowed humans to connect and form larger social groups. They also found that children as young as five gossiped, and that some of that form of communication could be called "prosocial" gossip.
Information- - even prosocial gossip -- is indeed power,
but gossip that is thoughtless or with the only purpose
to hurt someone remains a bad move.
The researchers discovered that -- whether they were studying five-year-olds, employees, or potential buyers on eBay -- so called prosocial gossip allowed people to share information that could protect the recipient from antisocial behavior such as who cheats at cards or who shirks responsibility.
What Should You Do?
The bottom line: share information, but carefully.
- Don't be known as someone who spreads rumors without foundation or purpose.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Cultivate that one person in every office who knows everything in case you need to know the scoop about how to work with your new boss or colleague...
- But don't spread the confidence about the affair that your best workplace buddy shared over tequila shots.
Information--even prosocial gossip -- is indeed power, but gossip that is thoughtless or with the only purpose to hurt someone remains a bad move.