Love a good old gossip? Be careful in the office

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why you should keep an eye on your gossiping ways.


Hearsay, scandal, small talk, rumours - whatever you want to call it, all of us are guilty of gossiping from time to time. But what's important is knowing where to draw the line.

People tend to pay more attention to negative information than to positive information. This is why newspapers tend to be full of bad news - it sells. Gossip intrigues us, and acts as a distraction from our lives. Gossiping is also a good way to bond with friends and family. Plus, it can actually serve a useful function in society. Telling a new colleague what your boss likes and dislikes can save them from getting started on the wrong foot. Openly discussing a celebrity scandal, like revelations about R Kelly or Harvey Weinstein, can help to reinforce positive social norms. And gossiping might actually be good for your health.

A study from the University of Pavia found that significantly larger amounts of the hormone oxytocin are released when we gossip, compared to when we engage in other types of conversation. Oxytocin is, to put it simply, great. Often called the love hormone, it is connected to many types of bonding and it is proven to be greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding, and now gossiping.

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But before you unzip those lips to share your latest juicy tale, remember that while some gossip can be harmless, other rumours can be poisonous and can really damage the self-esteem of the person at the heart of the story. Think twice before you spread that rumour. Could sharing it be seen as a form of bullying?

There are some easy ways to avoid gossip that falls into the nasty category. Number one is simply to make an excuse and politely walk away when others start gossiping. You could also try to change the conversation when your friends or colleagues start talking about something you're uncomfortable gossiping about. If you know someone is spreading rumours that are simply not true, stand up for the person. You might be afraid of being seen as “too dry” but really, that is a much better position to be in than to be seen as a gossip that people will chit-chat with but who no-one really trusts.

If you’re a manager trying to discourage mean gossip from your team, then it is important to lead by example. If it is spiralling out of control, speak directly to the core perpetrators to put an end to it but perhaps do not go to the extremes of Wall Street hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. A few years ago, it banned office gossip. Staff found gossiping about their bosses or colleagues behind their backs more than twice were fired. Of course, management at the company claimed employees loved the rule but they couldn’t exactly say they didn’t, unless they fancied losing their jobs. Just try to keep a balance between harmless gossip and nasty rumours and you’ll be fine - well, that’s what I heard on the grapevine anyway!

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