Gossip, almost always, has a negative connotation. Yet, we continue to engage in it, both personally and professionally. While ‘small talk’ on a personal level is detrimental too, on a professional level can assume disastrous proportions.
The most common definition of gossip is that it is ‘idle chatter’ or ‘dirty linen’ and it is called so for a reason. We all know whose workshop an idle mind is and chatter does not even have the respectability of conversation. So why do we still plunge into it?
Wikipedia gives the following formal definition of gossip, “Gossip consists of casual or idle talk between friends. While ostensibly value neutral, the term often specifically refers to talk of scandal, slander, or schadenfreude relating to known associates of the participants, and discussed in an underhand or clandestine manner.”
Still, many of us get caught up in hushed conversations at the water cooler, unabashed and unsubstantiated chinwags in cubicles, and whispers that can entertain sometimes, but cause damage a whole lot more often.
Nonetheless, all of us, regardless of our stature and station in life, dip into the dirt-pool of baseless dialogues, bringing our personal value down and putting a blemish on our professional face.
“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people,” said Socrates.
So why do we engage in it? A study of human behavior and an honest introspection into our own psyche helps us attribute the following reasons that even seasoned professionals get caught up in gossip.
1. Misplaced priorities
Given the times we live and work in, we always have more on our plate than the time and tools to accomplish it. We subscribe to online lessons, enlist ourselves in management workshops, make diligent to-do-lists in our zeal to prioritize a zillion tasks that must be completed.
Still, at the faintest hint of inducement, we give in easily to lending an ear or adding our voice to the titter-tatter that may be going around.
We must not forget that professionals who are truly busy and result-oriented will never dither away precious opportunities by letting virtual or real-time chitchat get in the way. They would, rather, involve themselves in more useful and productive work.
“When of a gossiping circle it was asked, what are they doing? The answer was, Swapping lies,” Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
2. Misuse of time
We all lament about how little time we have to complete our important assignments, work on our essential chores and to create a healthy work-life balance. We chirp about 24 hours in a day being too little and marvel at those who continue to climb mountains and run marathons while still holding important positions in their professions.
And yet, in the next second, we will stop the work at hand to add our two cents to an ongoing mindless debate on our social media platforms or hang around designated corners in office to network through the unofficial and ungainly channels of scuttlebutt.
Professionals who are time-conscious and excel in time management will never allow this precious, constantly depleting resource to slip through their deft hold.
“The things most people want to know about are usually none of their business,” George Bernard Shaw.
The overly used ‘FOMO’ – fear of missing out – at the center of our insecurities has, often, pushed us in the direction of gossip.
Are we the target of the over-the-cubicle exchange? Should we not be getting on this bandwagon to just stay in the loop, keep in the reckoning and perhaps be relevant?
Such thoughts dog us incessantly and feed into our insecurity. But this chain of thought is only for those who are not skilled, self-sure and steady on their own feet.
A true professional jumps over the back-fence talk, dives into the significant stuff and is steadfast in the face of any swaying sensationalism that may be at play.
“I maintain that, if everyone knew what others said about him, there would not be four friends in the world,” Blaise Pascal.
4. Sense of power
Gossip-mongering provides us an affected sense of importance and power as we seem to be the holder of some information, however incorrect it may be. It gives you a false sense of a skewed social standing. “Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” asked Sean Covey.
Weak workers often resort to this tactic to bring one-upmanship to themselves, to make feeble attempts to get closer to the Top Dog and to pull the competition at workplaces down by attempting to soil reputations.
“Gossips are worse than thieves because they steal another person’s dignity, honor, reputation and credibility, which are impossible to restore. So remember this: When your feet slips, you can always recover your balance but when your tongue slips you cannot recover your words,” Anonymous
5. An inherent sense of curiosity
People who employ themselves in gossip elevate it to the level of a social / interpersonal skill. “I have this story / information to share (and most often IT IS a rumoured story). So what’s yours?”
“So and so is getting promoted out of turn, really?”
“Is she being sent to Geneva for the conference? No surprise there. She has been brown-nosing the boss.”
“Is he really being offered all those extra perks with his package?”
“Is the GM being sent on a punishment posting because he sparred with the owner?”
And on and on we go – every day, at every given opportunity, with or without any stake in the matter.
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas,” Marie Curie.
6. Predisposing factors
We may have, very well, seen our parents / teachers / family members gleefully take part in it and that may have conditioned us in developing a mindset that there is nothing wrong for us to enter the groove of gossip. A lot of our behaviour is learned from our personal circle of influencers and it starts early from the time our cognitive abilities begin to take shape.
Given the rampancy with which we indulge in it, it appears that the less ethical, less strong and less professional among us are in a way wired genetically to behave so abominably.
But professionals who are self-contained, self-proud and actualized would seldom partake of such pitiable prattle. They would, instead, endeavour to create a cohesive workforce that delivers to make their organization the finest place to work in.
“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks,” Shannon L. Alder.
7. Entertainment value
The habitual babblers, heck, even most of us, see a high level of entertainment value in gossip. A lot of us find it more amusing than a good film or a good read or a good piece of music. After all, it is easily accessible, provides cheap humour, piques our interest and is absolutely free.
It does take willpower, practice and sanity to stay away from such spicy, slanderous slush and maintain decorum at no cost or compromise.
“Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker,” George Eliot.
We all know that old habits die hard. If gossiping becomes a habit for whatever reason, it is difficult to unlearn it. We, voluntarily, feed on it and allow the unprincipled habit to prey on our professionalism.
It takes time and tenacity to break or build any habit. Gossiping is no different. But it is in our own big interest to change if we have already succumbed to this ugly habit or steel up and steer away if we have not yet been sucked in.
“Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed,” Erica Jong.
9. Peer pressure
We see people in our subset of contacts at work and socially, enjoy a good piece of gossip and keep the ball rolling and we feel compelled to belong.
Peer pressure has been a nemesis from the time we were young; pushing and pulling us into directions good and bad.
Regardless of our age and experience, the third rung on Maslow’s Pyramid continues to dictate the choices we make and the decisions we take.
To recognize such pressures, to identify the right set of people to align with, to lead with one’s ethical best practices and not follow as part of a herd is what professionalism is all about.
“And all who told it added something new, and all who heard it, made enlargements too,” Alexander Pope.
10. Negative trait / Devilish streak
Perhaps there is that, so far loosely defined, gene of negativity in all of us that urges us to hurt, harm and be hellish even when we have no concrete reason or motive to bitch and babble.
But the main purpose of an advancing person and professional, and the natural progression of any human being are to evolve, grow and realize one’s full potential. This is only possible when we bring in all our consciousness and channelize our skills and attributes into an upwardly developing value system; thereby creating and reinforcing a positive work environment for ourselves and others to thrive in.
“They come together like the Coroner’s Inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week,” William Congreve.
As stated above, gossip is a negative energy that corrodes the very core of a good organization and shafts through healthy relationships among colleagues.
Bad organizations and fragile professionals temporarily thrive in gossip before being annihilated by its negative forces. Good organizations and strong professionals shun away from such malpractice and abolish it before it begins to bud.
“It is just as cowardly to judge an absent person as it is wicked to strike a defenseless one. Only the ignorant and narrow-minded gossip, for they speak of persons instead of things,” Lawrence G. Lovasik.
Why do you think we, as professionals, dabble in gossip? Do share your thoughts.
With over 16 years of experience with some of India and Asia’s top hotel brands, Aruna is a seasoned corporate communications specialist, PR strategist and writer who has taken a sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on book projects on Public Relations & Communications, Hotels, Food and India respectively.
As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization of business communication and written manuals. Aruna has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the aegis of Rotary International and participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA and Friendicoes to name a few.
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