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July 4, 2019

Gossip: Costs, Benefits & How To Handle It

Two colleagues, a transgender woman and a non-binary person, laughing in a meeting at work copy

Gossip and trash talking in the workplace…sometimes it bonds employees but is it ever worth it? What should you do if you know that you are the subject of it? How do you stop trash talking and gossiping if you’ve developed a bad habit of it? Plus strategies for encouraging co-workers to tone it down. We all know how contagious and toxic it can be, so Jess sat down to discuss with Jeff and Carolyn on The Morning Show.

Check out the summary and video below.

We all gossip from time to time, so what is it’s appeal?

Gossip can be damaging, but research suggests that it can also produce personal and group benefits. For example, some folks report that it eases anxiety to talk about a negative interaction or observation as a means of warning others. Research at Stanford University suggests that when you learn about potentially negative behaviour from others, you can avoid negative interaction and foster collaboration with those who are seen as more cooperative. The same study found that groups that allow members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness more than those who don’t create space for gossip. The fear of gossip (“reputational information sharing”) can help to positively regulate interactions as a form of social monitoring.

Gossip, of course, can also be positive. When you share or hear positive information about others, it can be motivating and you can derive a mood boost from their good fortune.

You might consider good gossip part of a conversation that leaves you feel connected, relaxed and open whereas negative gossip is likely to leave you feeling regretful, jealous, frustrated or uneasy.

What should you do if you know other people are gossiping (negatively) about you?

Externally: Ask them what they think or what they’ve been saying? It’s not a confrontation; it’s a fact-finding mission and it often works to humanize your experience. When you connect a human face and a human interaction to a rumour or story, it can serve as a reminder that what may feel like harmful banter has a human impact on the other end. Of course, you can also opt to ignore it or ask a friend to step in and provide clarifying information or additional context.

Internally: Check your negativity bias. People say so many good things about you, but you tend to get hung up on the negative outlier. You can reduce the impact on your self-esteem by making a mental note of the positive too. Also remember that their desire to talk about your life may reflect their own situation (e.g. dissatisfaction) more than yours, so practice compassion.

If you tend to gossip and later regret it, how do you break the habit?

Consider:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?

This is a framework applied to mindful speech and can help make conversations more meaningful and intimate.

Ask yourself if you take pleasure in others’ misfortune (schadenfreude) and if so, consider why you feel the need to criticize them; oftentimes, it’s related to your own insecurities. If you work on those first, you’ll likely find that your desire to speak disparagingly of others subsides.

Some people say they gossip less if they have one friend with whom they can share everything. They blurt it all out in their presence and this is enough to scratch the itch to gossip.

How can you get staff and co-workers to tone in down?

You can change the topic. If you don’t engage, they will catch on and your refusal will serve as yet another form of social mini

You can also turn the conversation into a positive. If they criticize what another co-worker is wearing, share something you like about that person.

Remember that if they’re gossiping with you, they’re probably also gossiping about you.