Biglaw, Blogging

Move Over, Greed; Gossip Is Good Too

Your reading of gossip blogs — well, at least those relating to your profession (so Perez Hilton probably doesn’t count, unless you’re in showbiz) — has just been blessed. From an article entitled “Gossip Is Information By Another Name,” in the New York Times:

Q. The office sometimes feels like one big water cooler, with colleagues gossiping about one another and about management. It’s hard to resist joining in, but it feels subversive to spread information this way. Is it?

A. Not necessarily. Most gossip is just communication, a way that people form networks of trusting relationships.

The word “gossip” has a negative connotation, but you could also call it strategic information sharing, counseling or mentoring, said Michael Morris, a research psychologist and professor of organizational behavior at Columbia Business School who studies social cognition.

So feel free to bill your reading of ATL to “professional development,” “office admin,” or something similar. If you get asked about it, say you were gathering and sharing “strategic information,” or “mentoring” younger lawyers.

As long as the information you’re spreading is not intended to hurt another person, it can actually be good for the company. Especially during times of major change, like downsizing or layoffs, gossip can be cathartic for employees, Professor Morris said.

See, e.g., Friday’s O’Melveny & Myers thread (250+ comments).
A little more discussion, after the jump.

Still from the NYT:

Gossip fills an information void, and it can be considered a warning to management to do a better job of communicating to employees, said Mitch Kusy, an organizational consultant, psychologist and professor in the Ph.D. program in leadership and change at Antioch University.

Beyond that, “if a leader has his ear to the ground, gossip can be a way for him to get a sense of what his employees are thinking or feeling,” said Professor Kusy, who is also a co-author of “Manager’s Desktop Consultant.”

It seems that some firm leaders — e.g., John Quinn of Quinn Emanuel — are taking the message to heart, using ATL to find out what’s on the minds of their employees, and making communication more open in response. Other law firms, not so much.

Q. Can gossiping ever help your career?

A. It can give you a leg up because it tends to be surprisingly accurate, said David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist, anthropologist and professor at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. “A company newsletter will never replace gossip, because you get much more and better information from gossip,” he said.

Gossip is your workplace radar, keeping you abreast of changes at the company, even if there is no official communication about them.

We agree completely. Don’t automatically believe everything you read, of course. But feel free to take rumors you read on ATL as a starting point for further investigation.
You can read the rest of this very interesting piece, which also looks at the downsides of gossip, over here.
Gossip Is Information by Another Name [New York Times]

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