Gossip is something we’ve all done, we’ve all participated in and all been a victim of.
So, why do we do it?
Basically, gossip is a form of social intimacy and, as humans, one of our greatest human needs is to belong. What makes gossip even more tempting for some, is that targeting someone else comes with the added (phony) bonus of elevated self-importance.
But, it’s not all bad.
Although the word ‘gossip’ conjures up images of secret huddles behind the water cooler or hushed whispers at family gatherings, the reality is that not all gossip is bad.
In fact, a 2019 study by Californian psychology professor, Megan Robbins, and her graduate student, Alexander Karan assembled data from 467 people.
Of these, 269 were women and 198 were men.
How did they get it?
They put microphones on each of them which, over a period of five days, randomly recorded pockets of conversation (without recording their identity) and identified whether it was positive, negative or neutral in nature.
What they found was that on average, people spend 52 minutes of each day engaging in gossip, but only five percent of this was negative, with the majority being either neutral social sharing, or positive observations.
The other thing that may surprise you is that, yes, women do gossip more than the blokes, but get a load of this - the content of their conversations were less negative than the fellas. In fact, women came in trumps in the neutral gossip stakes.
This isn’t to say that women are saints all the time, in fact we engage in our fair share of malicious stories, but we are either less prolific than the men, or conceal it better. I’ll leave it to you to form your own conclusions on that - and I'd love you to share them in the comments. BTW, If you want to read more about the actual study, you can do that here.
So, even though the nasty stuff may not be as prevalent as we thought it was, there is no denying that it still has the capacity to cause deep hurt and disfunction.
So, what do you do if you have a gossiper in your workplace or friendship group who just about salivates at an opportunity to cremate someone’s reputation?
You respond with these six words: “why are you telling me this?”
A split second later, the gossiper, noticing the integral boundary you’ve imposed will do one of three things. They’ll either fall silent, walk away or they’ll actually tell you why they’re telling you this. My bet is on the first two.
The other thing this magic sentence does, without any hostility or finger-pointing, is form an instant neural link in the tale-teller’s mind that associates gossiping to you as a form of pain – i.e. accountability, so the likelihood of it happening again reduces significantly.
It’s important to note here, that no one sets out to be a negative person, they (and we all) are simply a product of programming. This programming comes from installed beliefs, memories and the stories we tell ourselves about the value we see in ourselves along with the perceived value, we feel, others see in us.
Unfortunately, though, so many workplaces sacrifice workplace profitability and employee engagement due to a need to placate negative staff … not out of favouritism, but simply because they don’t know how to handle the situation without creating a whole new problem.
Rebooting your workplace, drama free is actually easier than you think … and no one gets hurt.
Kickass Mindset Coach & Corporate Trainer