Last week, I wrote about how gossiping at the office can indicate that you’re in dire need of soft skills training or may be a pathetic, passive-aggressive coward. Or, more likely, both. After I submitted the post to ATL, David Lat (aka The Legal Gossipmonger Grandmaster) reminded me that hey, gossip can be positive too! The Grandmaster was absolutely right, of course, as my article had really only focused on the type of gossip where people whine and complain about their coworkers.
I thought, hmm, true — gossiping at work can definitely have a positive impact on you if you’re gaining information that will be useful to you on the job. Like finding out about which IT dude won’t treat you like the complete tech idiot that you are. Thanks to one of the commenters, I decided to dig a little further into what some of the other positive effects of gossip could be. And I was surprised by what I learned….
Gossiping lowers stress. According to the results of a study from earlier this year at the University of California – Berkeley, sharing gossip with someone else actually helps to lower your stress level. Now, I know that some of you become very ugly when stressed and do crazy things like declare you’ll move to Canada whenever a universal health care act is upheld by SCOTUS. Get a hold of yourself and try gossiping your heart out instead. Leave the poor Canucks alone — they’ve got their own crazy citizens to deal with.
Gossiping strengthens relationships. There can be many reasons that gossiping causes people to feel closer to each other. The furtive tones, the secrecy, the blood oaths — these all engender a sense of mutual trust and chumminess. Commiserating about a common “enemy” tends to reinforce the similarities between the unhappy allies. And recipients of gossip develop a sense of appreciation toward the gossiper if they’re gaining information that’s actually valuable.
Finally, as David mentioned, gossiping is just plain fun, damnit. Work is a lot of things, but “fun” is not a word that a lot of people would use to describe their job. Gossiping can break up the monotony and help you spend some enjoyable time with colleagues without requiring a lot of planning or expense. Yes, gossiping is free entertainment!
Gossiping can prevent scandals. Or it can just keep bad things from happening or getting worse. As the Daily Beast points out, if people had gossiped more about Sandusky, it could have prevented a lot of kids from being further victimized. Ideally, your company would have processes and measures in place for you to report troublesome incidents. But in the event it doesn’t or, for whatever reason, you choose not to take advantage of those processes, gossiping is certainly another avenue that can raise awareness about bad stuff that may be going on.
Gossiping can be a great source of information. As mentioned above, gossiping is an effective way to learn about what’s going on that the company won’t tell you about. For example, you may find out that the company is considering making some organizational or work allocation changes, and you may actually have an opportunity to steer those changes toward a direction beneficial to you if you speak up. Or, you may find out how to deal better with particular colleagues by learning about hot button issues, pet peeves, or other quirks they may have. You may learn that one of your co-workers has the nastiest temperament in the mornings. Utilize this information like all of the other sneaky gossipers do by only scheduling meetings with her in the afternoon.
As mentioned in my last post, keep in mind that whatever you hear ain’t necessarily so. And that even if it is true, that you may not be hearing the whole story. Robb Willer, one of the co-authors of the Berkeley study, advises that you should “discriminate between different kinds of gossip and the people who do it.” Get to know what peoples’ agendas and gripes are, and it will help you give context to their gossip.
I also still strongly recommend that if you have a personal issue with someone at work, you approach them directly first instead of badmouthing them to everyone else around. Conflict resolution skills are always useful both in and out of the workplace. But for other situations, gossiping can certainly benefit you. So chatter away (with caution). David didn’t pay me to say that, I swear. (He just waterboarded me every day until I agreed. Feel free to spread that one around.)
Are there any other pros of gossip that you can think of? Email me or share below.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.