Have you ever participated in gossip?

How did you feel when you thought about the answer to that question? Guilty? Ashamed?

When we think of gossip it’s usually the malicious type that comes to mind, but gossip isn’t always malicious, it can also be a force for good. According to a number of studies, gossip can have positive effects.  On the flip side, gossip can be damaging, both to the subject of the gossip and the gossiper.

What’s the difference? How do you know if you’re crossing the line?

Constructive Gossip

When done constructively gossip has a range of benefits.

Sharing chatter and ‘idle’ talk helps people to bond and form a sense of community. For women, social bonding through conversation is particularly important (see my previous post The Sisterhood Rules Revealed). Without it, we’re unlikely to trust or relate to other women.

Using gossip to vent our frustrations helps to relieve stress. Imagine you’re fired up because a colleague was curt towards you, and you seek out a trusted colleague for a chat and to spill the beans. How do you feel when you have had your say? Better?

Gossip also helps to us get a reality check against others’ experience. In this example, perhaps your colleague knows something that you don’t. For instance, they may tell you the person involved has a gravely ill child. Suddenly, you see it all differently, and you feel empathy instead of offence.

Gossip can also reinforce shared values and accepted behaviours. In this instance, being curt or rude isn’t acceptable among that group. By sharing what she knew, the co-worker demonstrated the values of empathy and understanding.

It’s important to stay constructive, but it’s a fine line. Let’s take a closer look at the other side of the line.

Careless Gossip

Have you ever been happily engaging in idle chatter or sharing troubles with a colleague and let slip a careless remark?

shutterstock_410945263Let me tell you about a time when I did just that.

I was working on a large change project. One of my peers (I’ll call her Wonder Woman) was working with a very resistant group who were being horrible to her. Despite her treatment, she remained very professional and was doing a great job. I admired her for it.

On a trip interstate I was having a coffee with a colleague who was working on a different part of the same project (I’ll call her Madam X). I trusted Madam X because we had worked together for a long time, and I thought of her as a friend.

Madam X asked me how Wonder Woman was going with the difficult group. I replied that she was doing a fantastic job, despite the group’s behaviour towards her. When Madam X asked for more detail, silly me shared some examples. A few months later, another colleague (I’ll call her Miss Parker) mentioned she had heard that Wonder Woman was having a hard time of it, and was struggling with her role. My stomach sank as I listened – I was hearing my own words taken out of context.

Me and Miss Parker were both guilty of careless gossip.

I hadn’t thought about how my words could be taken out of context. I’d also been politically naïve. Had I thought about it, I would’ve realised Madam X and Wonder Woman were both in line for the next promotion, and hence were competitors.

Miss Parker repeated what she’d heard from a trusted source, and believed to be true. She did so without checking the facts or considering the possible impact on Wonder Woman’s reputation.

To Gossip or Not to Gossip?

Remember constructive gossip can help with stress relief, provide a reality check and help to form social bonds. Gossip of some form is an important part of forming relationships at work. Research has shown failure to participate can result in isolation and diminish trust. It may even be interpreted as rejection of the group.

So how can you have these conversations, gain the benefits, and avoid the dangers? Here are my tips:

    ♥ Check your motivation before speaking.     ♣ Set out to get revenge or hurt others.
    ♥ Calm down first.     ♣ Speak in the heat of anger.
    ♥ Think about who you’re talking to.     ♣ Blab to the first person you see.
    ♥  Be aware of your location.     ♣ Vent or share confidences in open.
    ♥  Stay professional.     ♣ Be judgemental, negatively classify others.
    ♥  Own your feelings – make I statements:
              ‘I felt …‘
    ♣ Make they statements about your feelings:
            They made me feel …’
    ♥  Choose your words carefully.     ♣ Embellish or use highly emotive language.

Another simple way to manage yourself is to ask yourself this question before you speak:

How would I feel if a recording of what I said was made public?

What About Malicious Gossip?

Layer 10Malicious gossip is nasty. It’s deliberately spreading information (true or untrue) about someone in order to do harm. Malicious gossip is conscious; you know if you’re doing it.

If you’re involved in malicious gossip, STOP NOW!

Look in the mirror and ask yourself out loud: What’s motivating me?

If your motivation is coming from the dark triad of fear, revenge or envy you’re hurting yourself from the inside out. You’re better than that. Get yourself some help to deal with it before you do more damage to yourself and others.

If that doesn’t work for you, imagine how it’ll damage other’s perception of you when you get found out. Because you will get found out sooner or later.

Are You the Subject of Gossip?

Have you been the subject of careless or malicious gossip? It’s a stressful place to be. It can make you feel angry and powerless.

In my next post we’ll go into detail about how to deal with careless or malicious gossip.

In the meantime, stay constructive, remind yourself that the gossipers are the problem not you and find a safe person to talk to – preferably away from the workplace.

Have you seen careless or malicious gossip in action? What impact did it have?

Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments section below.