How gossip can hurt, help you in the office


Talking about others can be a weapon or a gift, depending on how you do it.

It's no secret that gossip can destroy a practice's chemistry and create a difficult work environment for team members. But not all gossip is created equal, according to an Indiana University study.

Researchers Tim Hallett and Donna Eder found that people who are targets of gossip are often negatively evaluated during formal work meetings. But the researchers also found that talking positively to others about a co-worker can enhance his or her reputation. The findings were published in the October issue of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

Hallett and Eder discovered the scoop on gossip during a two-year study of workplace politics at an urban elementary school. Hallett observed meetings and classrooms, shadowed administrators, and spent time in the teachers' lounge. He also recorded 13 formal staff meetings and found 25 episodes of gossip that occurred during the business part of the meeting. Upon reviewing the tapes, the researchers found that gossip in informal settings tended to be more direct but shorter in duration than formal gossip.

According to the researchers, formal gossip is more likely to involve veiled criticism, but can be diverted toward a more positive angle by changing the subject or choosing another target for criticism. Of course, gossip wouldn't be a problem at all if team members spread only positive messages. You can dream, right?

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