What’s Wrong with Gossip?
From updating someone on the status of a project to chatting about the performance of the hometown baseball team, co-workers spend a great deal of time communicating with one another. These exchanges help work get done and provide ways to bond. But when the conversation ventures into gossip, nobody benefits.
“Gossip is detrimental to all of the parties involved, whether they realize it or not – including you,” says Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics and author of Make Work Great and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work. He notes that gossip always involves three different parties -- the speaker, the listener, and the subject – and each has something to lose.
“The damage to the subject of the gossip is the most obvious,” Muzio states. “In the majority of gossip, the information being shared about the third person is negative. This has obvious impact on his or her credibility and reputation.”
The gossiper may get momentary satisfaction from provoking a reaction or being the one in the know, but the long-term consequences can be harmful. Demonstrating a willingness to talk about other people behind their backs raises questions of trustworthiness and makes others wonder what you’re saying about them when they aren’t around.
While listeners may seem like innocent bystanders, they too are put in a bad situation. “Upon hearing the gossip, the listener will either desire to engage with it or to disengage,” Muzio says. Engaging can lead to receiving information that is colored by the teller, not necessarily the facts. It also can encourage the teller, leading to more of the behavior. “If on the other hand the listener doesn’t wish to engage in the gossip, she will be placed in the uncomfortable position of failing to grant the emotional response that the gossiper desires – which may have its own consequences on their relationship,” Muzio notes.
Unless you are planning a surprise party, best not to talk about anyone who isn’t present. If you wouldn’t say it directly to the subject of the discussion, probably better to refrain from saying it at all.