Embrace Gossip and Obtain a Promotion!
By Joanne Richard
Sounds counterproductive and a sure-bet ticket to unemployment?
Well, think again, says Dr. Frank McAndrew, who has studied gossip and says it’s a necessary social skill, not a character flaw that breeds a toxic work environment.
Gossip in the workplace actually does more good than harm and if you can’t do it, then you’re going to find yourself on the outside looking in, says the social psychologist.
So own it and hone it. “The positive benefits of gossip get completely overlooked,” says McAndrew, adding that gossip is part of who we are and an essential part of successful group bonding.
This is not idle talk! “Gossip is never going to go away, and attempts to make that happen are doomed to fail.” So if you were recently advocating for gossip-free zones in the workplace, good luck with that. “It is so much a part of human nature that you may as well try to stop people from breathing in the workplace!”
Gossip can be traced way back to our biblical roots when gossip first became identified as a sinful, evil activity, so most people only think about the negative aspects of gossip when they hear the word, adds McAndrew, a Cornelia H. Dudley professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois.
But there’s lots of good about it and while we have featured the lowdown on workplace gossip, McAndrew is the first to sing its praise for a raise.
Good gossiping actually contributes to a healthy, cohesive working environment and networking yourself to a promotion, while doing it badly or not at all will damage office relationships – and possibly see you demoted.
“If you tell your coworkers that you do not wish to be part of the gossip network, what you are really telling them is that you do not trust them, that you do not wish to socialize with them, and that you are completely uninterested in the lives of the people around you,” he says. “None of these things describe a person who is thought of as having good social skills.”
According to McAndrew, of frankmcandrew.com, good gossipers rule the workplace because they are at the centre of the information network. Other people trust them with information and come to them for advice. “Basically, good gossipers are usually pretty popular people. They are tuned in to the subtle dramas taking place around them and are in a position to take advantage of opportunities before other people are even aware that they exist.”
So when it comes to this social skill, it’s all about gossiping well versus gossiping badly. Bad gossiping is to indiscriminately blab everything you hear to anyone who will listen, says McAndrew. “In other words, you are not a very discreet gossiper, and no one will trust you with information.”
Another way of being a bad gossiper is to gossip viciously in a way that will easily be seen by others as self-promoting and selfish. “Good gossipers usually share information that benefits the group as a whole,” says McAndrew.
And, he adds, if you just soak up information but never share any, then that’s also bad gossiping.
“In all of these cases, the bad gossiper will get eased out of the social network and will not become a person of influence.”
So check out McAndrew’s tips on gossiping your way to a promotion:
1. Pay attention to gossip and become a good judge of who provides trustworthy information and who does not.
2. Only share information that will make the group a better functioning unit. “Gossiping about a lazy or dishonest co-worker may help others avoid being exploited by the person and it may even force that individual to become a better citizen,” says McAndrew. “Saying mean-spirited things about a good team player out of envy helps no one, especially not yourself in the long run.”
3. Understand that you need allies to get ahead. “Sharing information that can help others get ahead may put them in a position to return favours to you in the future.”
4. Pay attention to personal information about others who are successful. By finding out what makes them tick, you may be able to learn strategies for becoming successful yourself.
5. Use the gossip network to learn the informal rules of the group. For example, is it okay to leave at quitting time? How informally can I dress on Casual Fridays? Is it okay to call the boss by her first name? Is it okay to drink at the holiday office party? “By listening in on the judgments made about the behaviour of others, you can avoid falling into the traps that are lurking out there for every new employee” – and quash your career climb.