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Gossip is Good


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Gossip is good? There's a startling thought!

In offices, schools, communities, and families everywhere, we insist that gossip is bad: don't listen to it, don't pass it on, and don't admit to being curious about who's saying what.

I'm taking a stand here to say that gossip is good. I'm not even going to qualify that with a disclaimer. Nor am I going to dress it up in party clothes by pretending that rumors are different from gossip (they're not). Instead, here are four reasons why gossip is good.

1. Learn who trusts you -- and whom you can trust

People who come to you with rumors and gossip will often request confidentiality -- and of course you'll honor that. And you'll quickly learn who's a habitual gossip and who isn't. If people who don't have a reputation for gossip and rumor-mongering are talking to you, that's great. It means you're reliable, they trust you to care for their reputations, and your opinion matters to them.

In learning the gossip styles of your co-workers, you'll also learn whether they are trustworthy in turn. The things they tell you, the words they choose, and their reasons for talking will give you insight into their values and motivations.

2. Find out what's worrying people

The rumors that surface in a company are key indicators of what's bothering the employees. If you're hooked into the rumor mill and gossip grapevine, you'll learn what people are worrying about. Then you can respond, with your actions and words, to control rumors and help people feel more secure, appreciated, and valued.

3. Discover people's perceptions

What are the company's chances for success, what project or department is hot and, yes, who got drunk at happy hour?

The "wisdom of crowds" says that groups of people are more accurate than you might think at predicting outcomes. When the group is just five or even ten folks in your grapevine, that may or may not be true. However, if even some of those five or ten people are on the same team and their casual comments indicate a real winner of a project, it could be time to buy stock in the company.

On the other hand, if they're unanimous that the project is behind schedule and in trouble, you know to clear your team's calendar to prepare for whatever assistance you may be called on to provide.

4. Know who the "opinion-setters" are

I've put "opinion-setters" in quotes because these are the people who spread the bad stories. Sadly, every office has its backstabbers, and these are the star players of the group.

You can count yourself fortunate indeed if these people like you, because you surely don't want to be on the wrong end of their opinions. At the same time, you even more emphatically do not want to be associated with them; their reputation will rub off on you, probably sooner than later.

These people are often surprisingly influential. They dress their negativity up in business attire by claiming (and often believing) that they are being responsible corporate citizens. If senior management is out of touch, they may believe what they hear from the opinion-setter. And there's nothing the opinion-setter likes better than feeling important, so they love the idea that they've got the ear of someone in the corner office.

Therefore, as much as you may feel squeamish about this, you need to know what they're saying. Eventually, it will be something about you, your department, or one of your staff. And when it is, you not only want to know about it, you need to know so you can be ready to respond.

It's all about what you can learn

Just because it's gossip doesn't mean it's not valuable information. When you know what people are muttering to each other around the department's printer, whispering about in their cubicles, and discussing over a happy-hour beer, then you know where your attention should be focused. Whether you use the knowledge to know when and how to jump on an opportunity, to clue a co-worker in to be more careful about getting to work on time, or to pick the right words in a meeting to help people feel valued and secure, it's all good stuff.

It's NOT about what others learn from you

You've no doubt noticed that these four reasons all involve listening, not talking. Enough said.

What are they saying in your office? How does your knowledge help you understand what's happening around you?

"Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid." Walter Winchell, American newspaper and radio commentator who invented the gossip column at the New York Evening Graphic; 1897-1972

(c)Grace L. Judson

About the Author

I'm Grace Judson, and I help professionals who loathe corporate politics and want to lead with integrity and compassion. Stop by Svaha Concepts' website and check out my free resources!

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-09-19 15:20:40 in Business Articles

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