'Good gossip' should be encouraged at work, scientists claim
Published 06/12/2012 | 16:32
PEOPLE should be encouraged to gossip in workplaces because it helps weed out the the workshy and makes for a more efficient office, a study has found.
A team of researchers from the Netherlands found that up to nine in 10 conversations is gossip but it is not necessarilly malicious.
Gossip is used to warn colleagues about workmates who are not pulling their weight and even the threat of gossip can be enough to force lazy employees to contribute, a study by psychologists at the University of Amsterdam suggests.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, argued that organisations can “benefit from gossip that is instigated for positive reasons” just as much as they can be damaged by malicious conversations between colleagues.
Dr Bianca Beersma and Prof Gerben Van Kleef, who wrote the study, claim that by distinguishing between different types of gossip, organisations can “minimise the negative and optimise the positive consequences”.
They trace gossip back thousands of years, suggesting humans used it as soon as they were able to speak as a technique to curb “free riders” who would eat mammoth meat without helping to catch the animal.
“Speech makes it possible for group members to warn each other against those who do not behave in accordance with the group’s norms,” they wrote.
The study, which asked 121 of the university’s undergraduates to analyse their motives for gossiping, found that although some wanted to manipulate others, entertain themselves or find out information about a mutual acquaintance, others chose to gossip to protect the group from harmful behaviour among some members.
“Moral codes derived from Christian and Jewish religions condemn gossip and incorporate a number of severe punishments designed to discourage it,” the authors write.
“Even in societies in which religion no longer plays a central role, gossip is often frowned upon and is seen as reproachable. But is gossiping really that negative?
“By gossiping, one can warn group members against others who violate group norms, and it is possible that this explicit motive is a reason to instigate gossip.”
Dr Beersma told The Daily Telegraph her findings showed that it would be wrong “to prevent all gossip or stimulate all gossip”.
“Very malicious and very positive gossip occurs equally often,” she said. “It is very hard to say it is always this and always that. The truth is that both happens.”
Even the risk they would be gossiped about could change people’s behaviour, she said.
“When there is a threat of gossip in the group, they become more motivated to contribute to the group,” she said.
In an experiment when she gave people a number of lottery tickets and asked them to decide how many to keep and what quantity to donate to a group, the participants returned more tickets when they knew their reactions would be spoken about.
By Tom Rowley Telegraph.co.uk