Gossip can be defined as idle, malicious, slanderous or destructive talking or writing about another person or situation with the intention to hurt them, regardless of fact. Gossip can be true or false, but it is still gossip.  It is by far the most common social weapon.

Organisations should care about gossip because, gossip decreases productivity and creativity; it distracts people from their work; it divides teams; it compromises customer service; and it causes pain and resentment for the victims.  Gossip consumes much more time at work than previously believed.

Every family and every office has a number of ‘busy-bodies’ who derive great enjoyment from passing on information about others. It even happens among friends.  Paying attention to gossip mongers encourage their behaviour and it empowers them.  To make matters worse, the gossiper hardly ever leaves empty handed since we usually pass on our own bits of information to them.

We can think of many reasons and excuses for passing on information about others. We may even feel justified in doing so.  The fact is that gossiping is a hurtful activity.

How to detect a gossiper

  • A gossiper has low self-esteem, and by gossiping about others, their feeling of being powerless decreases.
  • Gossips want to gain favour and power for themselves by sharing gossip with others.
  • Gossipers gain feelings of power by isolating their victim.
  • Gossipers lack the ability to trust.  It is possible for a gossiper to trust, but only over a long period of time.
  • A gossiper will play one person against another.  This is usually done by creating friendship triangles.
  • A gossiper will divide and conquer groups that already have established, trusting relationships.
  • Feelings of chronic rage, bitterness, anger and resentment will always be evident in a gossiper.
  • A chronic gossiper needs constant affirmation.

Why do we gossip?

  1. Pride.
  2. Bitterness, hostility, anger, resentment.
  3. Low self-esteem; desire to pull others around them down to their level.
  4. Purposeful attempt to destroy someone, motivated by jealousy.
  5. Influence of peers; need for acceptance.
  6. Some people view gossip as a ‘friendship builder.’

What does gossip do to the victim.

  1. Gossip causes pain and embarrassment.
  2. It damages the victim’s character and reputation.
  3. It is destructive and causes division.
  4. Trust is broken.
  5. The victim’s job/future/emotional wellbeing may be at stake.
  6. Relationships are damaged.

What really motivates us to gossip?

It elevates us subconsciously. We feel ‘powerful’ when we ‘prove’ that we know things about others or when the listener seems shocked or interested in what we have to say. The impact we make, makes us feel powerful and it subconsciously elevates us.

When we carry personal pain from an event or situation from our past, it’s easy to turn on others or to lash out in anger. We sometimes want others to hurt as much as we hurt. The problem is that we simply add to our burden when we behave so badly. Sometimes all it takes is to forgive people from our past in order to move forward and building lasting relationships.

What organisations can do about gossipers:

  1. Communicate the organisation’s focus and direction to all staff.
  2. Lead by example. Create a healthy corporate culture by displaying the behaviours you expect from your employees.
  3. Make it clear that gossip will not be tolerated.
  4. Document the number of times employees gossip.  Show them how often they do it.
  5. Motivate and help your employees to feel successful.
  6. Help the perpetrators to consider their victim’s position.
  7. Teach the perpetrators how to manage their emotions and thoughts.
  8. Be aware that if chronic gossipers may have serious personal problems.
  9. Help the perpetrator to see that change is not a threat to them.
  10. Make everyone aware of their responsibility for spreading rumours and hurting others.
  11. Bring gossipers into the team and keep them there.
  12. Find a positive function for the perpetrator that is important for group effectiveness.
  13. Management must uncover all the facts that led to the gossip and collect information by focusing on the important aspects of the situation.
  14. It is also important to remain objective in order to successfully manage conflict and sort out misunderstandings.Gossipers are high maintenance employees and management will have to enforce the rules about gossip, teamwork and relationship building.  If the cost of the employee’s behaviour outweighs the value that the person brings to the organisation, then it may not be worth keeping the employee in the organisation. 

By Elsabé Manning