I have a question for you.
Lean to me.
A little closer.
Are you a gossip girl?
Gossiping is often seen as a way to relieve stress with friends, family, and co-workers. You vent about your bad date to your girlfriends, talk about your nagging boss with fellow employees, and gossip about old classmates over drinks. Although it may seem like harmless fun, gossiping can actually be extremely hurtful and damage both personal and professional relationships.
If you haven’t seen The Office, you’ve finally missed out on the series finale (nine seasons!) In case you’re uninformed (or, like everyone else, stopped watching it after Steve Carrell left), the show follows the everyday lives of employees working at a paper company. In the final season, they finally get to watch footage that’s been captured over the years. And they’re not too pleased with what they see. Imagine how you would feel after years of petty gossip, backtalk, and betrayal.
If you have ever been the subject of gossip, you know firsthand how hurtful it can be.
Let’s say your boss pulls you into her office because she noticed your negative attitude at work, and as you leave her office, the one person who knew told everyone. Or perhaps your marriage is ending and your law firm partner told colleagues to take it easy on you during this difficult time? Maybe they didn’t mean any harm (I get it, things are tough at home sometimes), but the damage is done and it still hurts. So now what? How can you fight back?
“We can’t stop ineffective behavior by simply saying ‘stop it,’” says Leslie Ungar,
communication and leadership coach, and author of 100 Tips in 100 Days. “It does not work for a child, a dog, or an employee. We need to replace ineffective behavior with effective behavior. Give real news a place where it can be directed and appreciated. Isn’t that why we have office parties for birthdays and company newsletters?”
Being on the receiving end of gossip can sometimes feel like an attack. Other times, it may be a way for coworkers to vent their frustrations or bond with one another.
“If someone shares gossip with you, it bonds you together,” says Frank McAndrew, Ph.D. and a professor of psychology at Knox College, in a Forbes article. “It creates trust. If you’re not in the loop, you feel ostracized.”
A paper published last year found that gossip can actually help identify colleagues who are not pulling their weight, making the office run more efficiently. The study, conducted by two professors at the University of Amsterdam, found that most people who gossip do so in order to gather or check information. Their main motive for doing so is to protect their group from those who may be shirking work responsibilities.
“The results of our studies show that gossip may not always be as negative as one might believe at first,” Bianca Beersma, the study’s co-author, told the MailOnline, the website of British newspaper The Daily Mail. “Gossip allows people to gather and validate information, to enjoy themselves with others, and to protect their group.”
Ungar stated that she believes the topic is gossip rather than news.
“On the topic of gossip, I am the contrarian,” Ungar says. “From a communication and leadership perspective, I don’t see gossip as bad. Gossip is often another name for news. What is People magazine if not news about people? What is The Huffington Post? When does news become gossip?”
The next time you’re feeling tempted to gossip, ask yourself these questions:
Why Am I Talking About This?
If you’re only interested in building relationships with your coworkers, why are you wasting time gossiping about someone else? Talk to them instead about the latest episode of Scandal or how excited you are for summer BBQs. You might just find that you have more in common than you thought.
“Have a couple of other topics in your pocket to start talking about when you feel tempted to gossip,” suggests Lynn Berger, career counselor and coach and author of The Savvy Part-Time Professional – How To Land, Create or Negotiate The Part-Time Job Of Your Dreams.
How Would I Feel If This Were Spread About Me?
If it’s a positive secret, like an upcoming party or work promotion, it can be difficult to keep the news to yourself. But if she would rather stay focused at work before the baby comes, then it’s best not to say anything. According to Berger, “Never start gossip, especially if it is very negative. It starts a negative cycle and builds upon itself.”
What’s It Worth?
More importantly, what is your value in sharing it? “In many companies, the news is like currency; it has more weight than gold,” Ungar says. “Is that the fault of those spreading the news? It is the fault of management for giving news such a high value.” What is the worth of ruining your reputation by gossiping about others? think about it: Your boss, your colleagues- will they still respect you?
What’s your opinion on gossiping in the workplace? Fill us in below!
Ask Sarah Vellozzi, SVP & Partner at FleishmanHillard, about the pros and cons of office gossip!