Rumours and gossip are integrated into our everyday lives with almost two-thirds of conversations held in relation to social topics and having ties to a third party (Kiran, et al., 2018). It is because of this that it is impossible to separate it from organisational life (Baskin & Aronoff, 1989). While spreading rumours and gossip is aggressive behaviour, it also carries an array of benefits.
Kurland & Pelled (2000) defined gossip as “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present”. Gossip often contains information which is not entirely accurate or may even be falsified. Suls (1977) observes that gossip occurs when an individual has a need for attention and promoting themselves. It has been concluded that a person will gossip in times of environmental ambiguity (DiFonzo & Bordia, 2007).
Gossip is used to inform, entertain and influence (Dunbar, 2004). Rosnow (1977) suggested that gossip may be used to spread relevant information throughout an organisation. While it has been stated that gossip may lead to an environment of mistrust and lack of productivity, it is also worth noting that it can strengthen organisational friendships and may even improve health. (Van Iterson & Clegg, 2008).
Broadly, these are depicted as information, influence and entertainment (Rosnow, 1977). The first of these represents an attempt by individuals to better understand their social environment. The second function builds on the first by addressing the utilisation of information to the individual’s benefit. Some contend, for instance, that gossip within organisations may provide a ‘survival mechanism’ in that it could be one means of humanising bureaucratic structures (Gabriel, 1991). One tangible outcome of this may be related to alleviating excessive levels of employee stress (Mishra, 1990, p. 223). Finally, rumour or gossip may have entertainment value for its own sake. It has been argued that engaging in gossip is an act which can generate pleasure or satisfaction for those involved (Gabriel, 1995; Haviland, 1977).
Rumour vs Gossip
Tebbutt and Marchington (1997) suggest that rumour and gossip are quite similar and may even be used interchangeably. They can be taken to mean ‘informal communication transmitted to another person or persons, irrespective of whether or not the communication has been established as fact’. Paper. While gossip is more prevalent between friends, rumour is more public and spread between acquaintances. Gossip is related to issues or events concerning a small group while a rumour can extend beyond this as it would be of interest to a larger audience (Rosnow and Fine, 1976).
While the functions of rumour are identical to that of gossip, the motivations are different. The four main motives of gossip are to depict the hopes of the people spreading them, fear, ambiguity and aggression (Mishra, 1990).
Do Females or Males Gossip More?
Originally the word “gossip” was used positively to describe a godparent at a child’s baptism. The meaning began to evolve to denote the mother’s female friends at the baptism and became linked with the casual chat they took part in (Room, 1996). Historically, there were different roles for men and women in the birth process. It was the female’s job to inform anyone who not present of the birth (Rysman, 1977). Gossip begun to have a negative stigma attached to it by the Elizabethan period. Gossip became attached to the female role and anecdotes, proverbs and caricatures were created as a form of humour. Female gossip was referred to as “idle talk” while male gossip was referred to as “shop talk” or “shooting the breeze” (Rosnow and Fine, 1976). If both sexes were engaged in talking too much, a female would be labelled as a gossip whereas a male would be called ‘and old woman’ (Rysman, 1977).
In the past it was primarily the female who was scorned for gossiping. Today, there does not appear to be gender differences in the frequency, tone or content of gossip (Bergmann, 1993).
It is assumed that spreading gossip and rumours derive from negative intentions but this is not always the case. A study stated that they may be linked with the evolution of human intelligence and social life (Dunbar, 2004). Gossip impacts our health in many ways. Benefits of rumour and gossip include the release of stress, the ability to express emotions, reduction of anxiety and reduction of uncertainty. Gossip acts as a means to share information and knowledge within an organisation all the while improving relations (Waddington and Michelson, 2007). When a person hears bad news their heart beats faster, this can be alleviated by sharing the news with someone else. As well as this, it can improve humour and self-esteem. Gathering and sharing information promotes the production of serotonin in the brain which is a natural antidepressant (Feinberg et al (2014).
Strength of friendships
When a negative rumour is shared with someone, it can be concluded that this person has placed trust in the other. Rosnow (2001) states that “a piece of information that ends up being a gossip advocates the involvement of trust between the parties thus claiming close relation or friendship tie”. Workers with a close relationship tend to one another tend to engage in negative gossip while workers without a relationship don’t tend to share any kind of gossip. Paper
The person who shares more positive or negative gossip will have more informal inﬂuence among co-workers in the organization Grosser et al. (2010) believes that gossip maintains and strengthens relationships while needing a high level of loyalty and trust.
Other researchers go further and posit that gossip helps preserve group solidarity and formal structures at work (Noon and Delbridge, 1993). Since gossip tends to take place between friends or within particular functional groupings within organisations, gossiping reinforces the social bond of the participants. This suggests ‘that gossip is not merely idle talk, but talk with a social purpose’ (Rosnow and Fine, 1976, p. 91). Personal friendships or social groups are indicative of active channels of informal communication (Festinger et al., 1948; Mishra, 1990; Sutton and Porter, 1968).
Based on Colson and Paine’s concept, Noon and Delbridge (1993) further argued that gossip involves power-play as gossipers are able to achieve dominance or self-promotion. Similarly, Kurland and Pelled (2000) proposed that an individual is able to attain different types of interpersonal power by engaging in gossip. For example, they posited that an individual is able to obtain reward and expert power by engaging in positive gossip and receive coercive power by engaging in negative gossip.
Furthermore, gossip provides groups a mechanism for neutralizing the dominance tendencies of those who might attempt to compromise the groups’ interests (Boehm, 1999). McAndrew, Bell, and Garcia (2007) supported this view by stating that group norms could be strengthened when group members engage in gossip because social control might be needed in order to share private information.
Gossip is part of every culture worldwide even if its forms may be different. It is futile to ban or punish it because the managerial regulations frequently result in an opposite effect.
The question is whether gossip must really be stopped? As mentioned before, gossips do have positive consequences, which is true under working conditions as well. It may inspire co-operation, put light on good workforce, and eliminate workplace abuse – as it was found in the researches of Stanford University (Parker, 2014). It is true that gossip leaves space for misuse, but research findings show that gossiping may have really important functions in community life. As for its roles in privacy, the power of gossip has been confirmed pro et contra by many researches, but its consequences at the workplace has not frequently been researched (Yi, 2015). If a manager regularly provides information, the occurrence and negative effects of gossip may be reduced to a minimum.
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- Van Iterson, A., & Clegg, S. (2008). The politics of gossip and denial in interorganizational relations. Human relations, 61(8), 1117-1137.