We all know that talking about others behind their back is bad. Gossip should be abhorred. I remember reading in a spiritual text that “backbiting extinguishes the light of the soul.” DEEP. And it is.
Gossip is incredibly detrimental to any organization. And, what I think often gets missed is why people gossip. But, before we answer the question, “Why do people gossip at work?” let’s clear one thing up. I truly believe it is the rare person who chooses to gossip simply to be mean and hurt the reputation of the person or entity being talked about. Often gossip occurs for one of four reasons:
1) People fear the unknown.
If people don’t have information that they want, they fear the unknown and will try to garner it from others – especially if that information appears to be hidden. This is why closed door conversations are so detrimental.
2) People want to belong and be included.
If people believe they don’t have information that others have, they will feel excluded and on the outside of the “inner circle.” Information is power. Everyone wants to be part of the team, to be included and the easiest way to identify those who are part of a tribe are those who are “in the know.”
3) People crave intimacy and a sense of connection.
I would suggest that because of the rampant pace we live at and the lack of real deal authentic communication with one another, many people crave a sense of genuine human connection and intimacy. Gossip is one of the quickest and easiest ways to connect with another human being. The secrecy, forbidden and exclusive nature of confiding in someone something that’s a bit subversive or judgmental is social super glue. Through the veneer of momentary vulnerability and trust, the two are bonded. Unfortunately gossip is a very sloppy second to real, meaningful connection.
4) People want to work with people they think of as peers.
Meaning, if someone isn’t carrying their own weight, isn’t competent or capable enough to do their job or simply isn’t a good culture fit, then there will be gossip. Rather than being a “narc,” employees will talk both about said individual and leadership’s lack of awareness/action. And they will talk often. The longer said individual goes unaddressed, the louder and more embedded the gossip becomes.
When it comes to gossip, these four reasons: fear, belonging, intimacy and the desire to work with others who carry their own weight, are all things that can be handled with some focused time and attention.