Seeing Both Sides of Workplace Gossip

Published Wednesday, June 02, 2010 8:09 AM

Have you been to the supermarket checkout counter lately? (And, by lately, I mean anytime in the last 30 or so years.) Look down to your left and/or right and you will see magazine racks filled with the likes of People, Star and National Enquirer. The evidence is right there in black and white: We are a gossip-loving culture.

This truth was exposed in a powerful 1976 issue of New York Magazine devoted to the topic of gossip : The spirit of triviality lurking in the bosom of the average newspaper reader will never be quenched, and is indeed now blazing up more fiercely than ever before. Fast forward a few decades and most of us can confirm how this truth plays out today well beyond the tabloids to blaze fiercely in our daily work lives.

Interestingly, experts disagree about the nature of gossip in the workplace. On the one hand, some hold the view that it is a toxic and destructive force. This post on workplace gossip, for example, discusses how the rumor mill typically "breeds resentment and becomes a roadblock to effective communication and collaboration." On the other hand, some experts see gossip as conducive to camaraderie and a positive work environment. This view is nicely captured in a recent article that asks: Might Office Gossip Be Good For You?

The article cites an Indiana University study and other research findings confirming that the workplace gossip mill "forges connections, builds trust, provides a means of learning unwritten social norms and offers a way of comparing ourselves with others." Proponents of this view consider gossip a social skill that provides a positive and powerful outlet for people who might otherwise be voiceless in the workplace. However, even those who see gossip's good side recognize that it is usually unpleasant to be on the receiving end as it can "feel malicious and exclusionary."

What do you think of the workplace gossip mill? Is it a constructive, destructive or neutral force? We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with us here and on our the Beyond Folders Community's Twitter and Facebook pages.

by Candie Harris


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