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Does Office Gossip Help or Hurt Us?


Posted by Insightlink on 10/21/16

Most of us would agree that office gossip can be deadly.


Many of us also know how much it hurts to be backstabbed by the people who greet us every day with a smile and cheerful ‘hi’ in the hallway. Yet some resgroup communicationsearchers have shown that gossip can be good for us and it can even be used to enhance relationships. They have even gone so far to say that talking behind someone’s back can bring about increased harmony amongst co-workers. 

Really?

As employee research experts we have never worked with a client who has used gossip as part of an action plan, as a means of strengthening communication and morale. So we were intrigued by a study conducted by a research team at Stanford University who discovered that gossip and ostracism were useful tools that groups of employees use positively to encourage cooperation and even reform bullies.

While we may think gossip is malicious and that it undermines trust and morale, this research showed it had positive effects. Participants in the study were encouraged to gossip about colleagues. What they found was that employees aligned themselves with others they perceived were cooperative and like them. The employees who were uncooperative and selfish were identified through gossip, which was encouraged. What was interesting about the study was how the ‘castaways’ or excluded employees behaved in response to being excluded. When they found out others talked about them negatively and then they were ostracized from the group, they changed their behaviors to become more cooperative. With this attitude change they actually returned to the group at a higher level of cooperation.

So gossip in this study had two important Impacts. For the employees who shared cooperative characteristics with others, being encouraged to gossip made it possible for them to align themselves with like co-workers so they could, as a group, protect themselves from selfish behavior. In this way, they could protect themselves from being taken advantage of by these ‘defectors’.

It sounds reasonable but it does not take into account the feelings and emotions of the outcasts and whether they changed sincerely or whether they still held some negative feelings towards the employees who gossiped about them. We all wear masks to fit in when necessary so can we say for sure that gossip helps more than it hurts?

There is no research we could find that proves this conclusively but common sense and the results we have accumulated after decades of conducting employee research informs us that the negative effects of gossip hurts far more than it helps. Gossip, involves spreading lies and half-truths,and the effects we have seen, can be very detrimental for an employee or an organization.


Traits of a Gossip:

  1. Through our research we have learned that people who spread gossip are generally insecure of their own positions at work, and are hard wired for their own success without any concern regarding the welfare of their co-workers. They tend to be the kinds of employees who will go elsewhere if a better opportunity comes along and are not loyal to anyone.
  2. Jealous by nature, they find satisfaction in spreading rumors about those who are becoming more popular and successful in their work.
  3. At first they may seem to be a nice person to talk to, sometimes overtly friendly. Soon, however, you will notice that the person is not a team player, and is usually avoided by other employees of the organization. This usually happens because (as the Stanford research showed) other employees have ostracized them because of unpleasant past experiences, and are not willing to engage in any further interaction with him/her.


How to avoid gossip:

  1. Be clear about what gossip is. Healthy banter and light teasing is fine until it crosses the line and can tarnish someone’s reputation.
  2. Don’t say anything about someone unless you would be willing to say it to them directly.
  3. Refuse to listen to a gossiper gossip by being aware of the negative impact it has on the way you think about yourself and the company.
  4. Avoid being influenced by a gossiper by focusing on your work and making it clear you are strongly committed to your goals with the organization.


Ways to respond if you are a victim:

  1. Be a cool professional so that you can ride the crisis.
  2. Don’t agonize over what has been said. Simply talk to the gossiper and him directly about the reason behind his comments. Observe their caught off guard reaction closely because it will let you know whether you can trust this person in the future.
  3. Gossip is a natural consequence of people who come together on groups and the best advice and remedy we can offer is to stay away from it.

If gossip and other issues have become a concern in your workplace you may be experiencing increased turnover, declining productivity and a drop in morale. If you are not sure or want to know what your employees are thinking and feeling, we strongly encourage you to conduct an employee survey. Our specially designed survey asks the right questions, to give you the insight into what is really going on so that you can take necessary action to improve your workplace and become an organization your employees are proud to work for and would recommend to their friends. For more information contact us at info@insightlink.com, call Lynn Gore at 866-802-8095 ext. 705 or visit our website at www.insightlink.com.

Thank you and cheers to happier employees!
 
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