We know that gossip can be about as real and credible as the fairy tales you were told as a kid, but this knowledge doesn't deter some people from engaging in it. Here's why people gossip (or participate in it) and what to do if you become the subject of gossip.
Image by Poldavo (Alex).
Being gossiped about definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth, while being gossiped to can feel like you're part of the "in crowd". This social status is one reason why people gossip. Some of the other "benefits" include:
- Intimacy: The shared secret helps "connect" the gossiper and listener.
- Trust: There's often an illusory perception of trust, but we all know this "trust" is fragile.
- Accuracy: The combination of status, intimacy and trust make us want to believe in the credibility of the gossip.
The article below from the Harvard Business Review points out that these are all almost always illusory. If you find yourself being pulled into gossip, one of the most powerful things you can do is let the gossiper know you will not be a part of it:
When I can see the conversation is headed in a gossip direction, I politely stop them and say: "Please do not put anything in my head that you expect me to not act on. I will not carry around a conclusion about another person without sharing it with them." This helps people understand that when they give you information, they take responsibility -- otherwise you don't want it.
The article shares more great advice about dealing with gossip during and after the fact, and although they centre their discussion around a gossiping boss, the tips can apply to the general workplace too.
What to Do If You Have a Gossiping Boss [Harvard Business Review]