Gossip. Is it good or bad? Believe it or not, the act of gossiping is as old as us human beings.
It was a means to establish trust in a tribe. When person A does something good for person B, person B goes around sharing that story with other people. That’s how the other people knew if they could trust person A. The opposite is also true in this situation. It was an essential act to ensure the wellbeing and the growth of the tribe.
When we talk about gossip, it’s important that we distinguish it from rumour. Rumours can be based on lies and perception. Gossip is factual information that we know that is happening in someone else’s life. Problem occurs if this information is private and somebody accidentally stumbles on to it. This person can now become intoxicated with the feeling that he/she knows something about the other person that nobody else knows.
There are a few things that could determine if this person will divulge the new found information. Information is power after all. Emotional intelligence and maturity play an important role in the decision-making process; to share or not to share. If the person witnessed a negative act or behaviour that may have an impact in their life/wellbeing; they may choose to report it or use it as a bargaining chip. If they witnessed something embarrassing, they may choose to share it by passing it off as humour. They may also use the information on what’s happening in other people’s lives as a cautionary tale for themselves and others.
The bottom line is that gossiping is here to stay. I’ve worked in companies where it has been made a policy not to gossip; it happened regardless. So how do you control this in the office? As a leader, form your stand on it, knowing that you cannot stop people from doing it. However, you can emphasize that severe action can be taken if anyone comes to you or HR to report that they felt hurt because they were the target of gossip in the office.
Also, if any kind of gossiping takes place on corporate communications (i.e. chat, email and social media), it can be submitted as evidence for disciplinary actions.
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