Gossip is a bad word. We shake our heads and do not approve. So why do we do it?
There are a lot of reasons given for gossip. In some contexts, gossip can be seen as positive. In the work place it can keep lines of communication open, foster a sense of community, and helps with bonding. Some experts claim it can be good for our emotional health. Most people seem to have a fascination in other people’s lives. This is why gossip magazines, reality tv, and even Facebook are so popular.
However, there is the dark side of gossip that creates a problem. Often the people starting these rumours are craving approval, and being the source of gossip feeds their need for attention. A person who has been the victim of some form of nastiness from a colleague and does not have the courage to respond directly, can resort to gossip for revenge. Sometimes it can rise from a lull in conversation. People seem to be scared of silence – it feels awkward, uncomfortable. Something needs to be said to fill the space, so ‘did you hear about …’ can be an easy way to get the conversation ball rolling. It will then be taken up by others who want to belong, to be part of the group. Don’t we all want to belong?
Discussing another person’s shortcomings, however accurately, can create immense problems and are quite divisive in a work setting. I’m sure most people would be able to cite examples of this. I have on a few occasions seen gossip divide a work place into sides, and even cause employees to resign in order to get away from what can easily become bullying. (The topic of bullying opens a whole new can of worms.)
Once I found out that there was a story going around that I was habitually smoking marijuana. Why? Well, because I am a relatively laid-back, calm kind of person. Apparently it is impossible to be so calm and therefore I must have chemical assistance. I found this funny, because it was ridiculous, and I knew if my boss ever heard about it he would know it was ridiculous too. Consider, however, if the boss had been the type to believe things like this. Rumours like this, if believed, could put a person under suspicion or even result in someone losing their job.
How can it be stopped? Well it can’t, not really. People have the right to talk to each other and one person’s gossip is another person’s casual conversation. Let’s face it, people talk, and they will always talk. It really comes down to self-control and self-censorship. Think about what you are saying that might hurt someone, think about what you are saying that might be used against you. Personally, if I hear a ‘juicy rumour’ it stops with me. I’m not sharing.