Can anyone honestly claim to have never gossiped in the workplace… to have never talked about somebody – a coworker or a boss? Well, it’s probably not fair for me to make the hasty generalization that everybody in the workplace gossip. But isn’t that true? Am I really committing that fallacy (hasty generalization) should I argue that nobody in the workplace could come out clean when it comes to gossiping or am I merely stating a fact?
Gossiping is so prevalent and ubiquitous in the workplace, even in the academe where people, professionals that they are, are supposed to be well-educated and should be conducting themselves within the bounds of professional ethics, couldn’t refrain from wagging their tongues and loosen their lips. And I think that even the so-called servants of God – pastors, priests and nuns – are not immune to gossiping. Right? I hope I am wrong.
So, if the supposedly educated and cultured people in the academe and the holier-than-thou church people gossip, how much more the ordinary people in the streets and neighborhoods?
The desire of people to gossip could not be put more eloquently than this way – “People gossip with an appetite that rivals their interest in food and sex.”3 Consider this: “People spend between 65% and 80%-90% of their day-to-day conversation gossiping.”4
Gossip could be defined negatively as “conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.”1 Words synonymous to it include “rumor”, “small talk”, “slander”, “idle talk”, and “backstabbing”.
There exists so bad a perception about gossiping. That is not likely to change notwithstanding the efforts of some researchers to present a different perspective on the subject.
Gossiping has been stereotyped, and rightly so, as malicious, hurtful, and damaging. If it goes unchecked in the workplace, it could ruin the organizational climate. Wagging tongues and loose lips could damage reputation and destroy the relationships between members of an organization. It sows distrust. It could also result to the morale of the subject of gossip getting shattered affecting his/her work productivity.
Actually, the act of gossiping can either be positive or negative. Gossip is either used to convey important information or it is used to malign other people or damage their reputation. It all depends on the motives of the gossipers.
Studies identified four possible motives for passing gossips. They are as follows: to maintain group norms; to enjoy; to inform; and to influence others negatively.2
Personally, I classify gossips in the workplace as “work-related” and “personal.” To talk about co-workers and managers is something that is really impossible to avoid especially when the co-workers conversing are very close friends. It’s so difficult not to talk about the way other people perform and behave in the organization.
What makes talking about the performance and behavior of the people that surround us in the places where we work negative is our motive. If there is nothing malicious in our intention, I believe it’s okay. Gossip can also be viewed “as the exchange of information with evaluative content about absent third parties.”2 We can discuss about the accomplishments (or the mistakes) of our fellow employees or our managers for the purpose of determining the good things we could emulate from them or to avoid repeating whatever mistakes they may have committed. Even managers also talk about people they are supervising when rating their performance and when evaluating policy implementation.
But when the discussions about co-workers (or employees being supervised) are fraught with envy and jealousy, of an obvious attempt to malign them… to strike daggers in their backs… that’s gossiping rearing its ugly head.
We can discuss about people in our organization to celebrate their success or tarnish their reputation. We can gossip to praise our co-workers and bosses or make fun of them.
Others really go as far as talk about the personal lives of other people in the workplace. I could not find any justification for people to talk about the personal lives of their co-workers. The act is simply malicious. Well, if perhaps the intention of the discussion is to figure out how to help a fellow employee wiggle out of a difficult situation then well and good. But if the motive is either to make fun or demonize the subject of the gossip… to push him/her deeper into the quicksand… for goodness’ sake – STOP!
One thing we should remember is this – if the gossiper among your co-workers tells you stories about somebody in your workplace I bet that that same gossiper tells something about you when he/she is talking to someone else.
Perpetrators of gossips should know that they could be at risk of being ostracized by their fellow employees for what they are doing. Gossipers and rumormongers in the workplace are avoided like the plague. Only a fool would associate himself/herself with (or trust) them.
There are different kind of gossipers and the best advise I could give is – AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS.
Let me share the most significant part of the conclusion of a study on gossiping that clearly identified the different kinds of gossipers.
“Every person deals with anxieties. These anxieties are normal in an everyday transitory sense. However, when a person becomes fixated on the pursuit of his satisfaction as the only way to resolve his basic anxiety, his “basic anxiety” turns into a neurosis. [Does this mean that gossipers are neurotic?] The neurotic trends all point to one or all of the purposes of gossip and thus, indicate that a person’s propensity to gossip is grounded on his anxieties. The compliant personality is the gossiper who gossips for acceptance, affirmation and love. This gossip purpose focuses on friendship/intimacy, and entertainment. The aggressive personality is the individual who is often described as domineering, difficult, and unkind. This is the gossiper who gossips for information, power and influence. Gossipers under the aggressive personality trend have more tendencies to gossip manipulatively and maliciously. The detached personality is the one who is inclined to gossip for information. Owing to his being aloof, cold, and indifferent, there is a wider gap between what he knows in the social structure he belongs in and what he does not know; thus, he is predisposed to gossip in order to acquire information. A person’s anxieties and neurosis is a reflection of his self-concept. The incongruity between a person’s self-image and ideal-self yields a mismatch that normally leads to poor self-concept.”5
Well, the best thing to do in the workplace is to not give anybody a reason to talk about you. Perform your duties and responsibilities as prescribed in your job description and avoid acting like an a s _ h _ _ e. This is when gossip serves a positive role – ensure that members of the organization adhere to rules and standards. Unless you want to be the subject of gossip in the workplace, you should not fail to perform the way you ought to and never misbehave.
Anyway, gossiping is here to stay. The gossipers will never go away. They could be seated right next to you or you could be sharing the same office. You’ll never know if the co-worker you consider as the best among your buddies has been whispering to every ear in the organization the secrets you have entrusted to him/her.
And when you think that gossipers in the workplace spread rumors tantamount to defamation of your character, you can seek the protection of the law. You can sue them. Defamation of character is a punishable offense.
- Foster, E. K. (2004). Research on gossip: Taxonomy, methods, and future directions. Review of General Psychology, 8, 78–99.
- Wilson, D. S., Wilczynski, C., Wells, A., & Weiser, L. (2000). Gossip and other aspects of language as group-level adaptations. In C. Heyes & L. Huber (Eds.), The evolution of cognition (pp. 347–365). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Dunbar, R. I. M., Duncan, N. D. C., & Marriott, A. (1997). Human conversationalbehaviour. Human Nature, 8, 231–246.
- Chua, S.V, Uy K.J, (2014). The psychological anatomy of gossip. American Journal of Management 14(3), 64-69