The Purpose of Rumorsby Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD | January 2, 2008
Rumors and gossip are a normal part of any work dynamic. We are taught at a young age that spreading rumors is mean and we should abstain, but most of us never really learn that lesson. What is it about gossip that makes a person feel better and why is it so hard to not participate? Is there a sociological purpose for rumors and gossip that makes it a necessary evil when humans are put in groups?
In many scenarios, but especially in the employment forum, gossip and rumors are a normal part of the work day. There is not one of us that has not been on the receiving end of the gossip circle and it can be quite hurtful. Then we turn around and participate in spreading rumors and repeating gossip as if we had forgotten the hurt it brought. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plon, Germany are reporting that gossip and rumors are actually a way humans solidify and strengthen bonds and reinforce group norms. They also found that we respond more to rumors about people who share our gender and are in our age group. We tend to spread positive rumors about friends while sharing negative news of people we consider high status.
Knowing all this, can you use this information to your advantage when dealing with others? One point not addressed in the study is something most of us know. We know who the biggest offenders are in our offices and therefore we can use that information to control the message we are putting out while with colleagues. Hopefully others in your work environment know the “office gossip” and do not put a whole lot of value into their opinion. You can use all this to your advantage by forming strong healthy relationships with healthy people and stopping rumors in their tracks. Mature adult friendships at work can be a great way to stop destructive rumors from gaining traction and damaging your reputation. In many situations there is no stopping rumors or gossip from spreading but you can control what you do with the information. If you hear something negative, let it stop with you. Developing a reputation as a loyal co-worker and a trustworthy person will over time protect your from the potentially harmful effects of gossip and rumors. This is a long term plan to protect you from the damaging effects of rumors and to develop the better sense of self required to abstain from this unhealthy activity.
Sommerfeld RD, Krambeck HJ, Semmann D, Milinski M. Gossip as an alternative for direct observation in games of indirect reciprocity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 104, No. 44. (2007), pp. 17435-17440.
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