Then gossip in the workplace can be healthy


A surefire way to cheer up the people in your office is to start a sentence with, “Well, I heard that . . .” What follows is generally some gossip—essentially defined as conversation involving accounts of other people. (These reports may be confirmed or unconfirmed. We can think of confirmed reports as “news” and unconfirmed reports as “rumors.”)

Gossip comes in a few forms. Sometimes we focus on information about other people’s private lives – their relationships, struggles, achievements, and life events. Most people find this type of gossip endlessly fascinating. As a social species, our cognitive systems are set up to seek information about the people in our network.

This type of gossip can bring people together or create factions. When we celebrate other people’s successes and positive life events, we bring our community together. When we inform team members about a sad experience in the life of a colleague, this can lead to outbursts of sympathy and attempts to help. These are pretty positive uses of gossip that can improve the overall sense of community.

Of course, not all gossip has this positive influence. Stories designed to portray a colleague in a bad light can undermine a sense of community. Talking about a failure a colleague has experienced with the intention of sharing a little glee reinforces the “us versus them” feeling. Additionally, spreading rumors you’ve heard about others can be a significant problem if those rumors turn out to be untrue. The simple rule is that if you don’t want to say to the person’s face the personal information you’re sharing with other people, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it.

The other type of gossip is news and rumors about professional things going on at the office. This gossip is fascinating for another reason. The future is always uncertain to some degree, and uncertainty breeds fear. Anytime you have information that helps you better predict the future, it can reduce that stress (although when gossip predicts problems in the future, it can create a different kind of anxiety).

It’s less dangerous to spread both confirmed and unconfirmed gossip about how the organization works. Business involves a lot of strategic planning, and you can’t make plans without knowing what’s coming. It can help to make some educated guesses about what’s likely to happen in order to develop alternatives to what you might do. The rumor mill is a source of information for these assumptions.

Additionally, corporate gossip generally falls into the category of information that brings people together. The shared worldview you get through professional gossip allows everyone to work with a set of assumptions that can make it easier to have discussions about how to approach upcoming challenges.

However, remember that rumors exist unconfirmed treat. Despite the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” (suggesting that there’s always a grain of truth in every rumor), just because a lot of people share gossip doesn’t mean it has any validity. As healthy as it may be to plan based on information you hear, don’t make any major decisions until you have more certainty about what’s to come. Then gossip in the workplace can be healthy


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