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Gossip: The Issue of Interpersonal Communication

People are flawed creatures who are prone to be biased and rude, who could betray and lie remorselessly. One of the most complicated ethical problems that appear in any group of people working or studying together is gossip. From one point of view, harmless gossip might improve interpersonal relations between colleagues and give them a common topic for discussion. From another point of view, the fact that employees or classmates talk behind each other back disrupts trust. Besides, there are numerous biases concerning the issue of gossip. For instance, there is a widespread belief that women tend to spread rumors and tattle more than men. The present paper investigates the topic of gossip and examines it from the perspective of social psychology. This topic was chosen for the signature assignment because gossip is something that everyone faces daily. Undoubtedly, every person, at least one, was asked not to tell others a big secret of the third party. Gossips do not necessarily contain some negative information on a person and might be neutral or even positive on rare occasions. Nonetheless, it is immensely interesting to know why people find pleasure in discussing third parties’ personal lives, successes, and failures. One might suggest that talking about another individual is the most straightforward reason to start a dialogue. Still, there are so many other topics for discussion in modern times, from politics and sports to series and movies. It is curious to notice that according to some scholars such as McAndrew (2019) and Grealy (2016) is a social skill, not a flaw of a person’s character. As Grealy (2016) puts it, gossip “performatively establishes intimacy and ongoing social ties” (p. 349). McAndrew (2019) adds that gossip should be regarded as “a means of controlling antisocial behavior” (p. 173). From this, it could be inferred that the topic of gossip is much more complicated than it seems. Another aspect of this topic that should be discussed relates to prejudice. As it has already been mentioned in the introduction, it has become customary to think that women gossip more than men. Additionally, there is a belief that psychologically mature and educated adults who have managed to create a successful career gossip less often than less educated, needy, and infantile people. The study conducted by Eckhaus and Ben-Hador (2019) debunks some of the most popular preconceptions about the tendency of men and women to gossip. More precisely, using quantitative analysis, the authors discover that gender does not affect the propensity to talk about others (Eckhaus and Ben-Hador, 2019). What is more, contrary to the prevalent delusion, “women were found to gossip more using a positive orientation than men” (Eckhaus and Ben-Hador, 2019, p. 104; Robbins and Karan, 2020). By the way, the existence of the belief that it is in women’s nature to spread negative gossip reflects the overall bias toward the female gender and sexism that still exists in modern society. Numerous studies are dedicated to the investigation of stereotypes on gossip. For example, Robbins and Karan (2020) reveal that, despite expectations, young people tend to gossip more in the negative clue in contrast to old ones. At the same time, the study discovers no correlation between the frequency of gossiping and age (Robbins and Karan, 2020). From the written above, it stems those gossips are inevitable, and it is wrong to assume that some people spread more rumors than others because of their gender or age. Furthermore, gossip is needed for the members of any social group because it creates a reputation and shows a member’s ability to cooperate (Wu, Balliet, and Van Lange, 2016). The most peculiar thing is that, according to the studies discussed above, a person who finds discussing colleagues behind their back unethical and morally wrong could be treated as an uncooperative group member who cannot be trusted. There are several socio-psychological theories related to the chosen topic. The first one to be discussed is the social comparison theory. According to this theory, which was developed by Leon Festinger in 1954, people evaluate themselves by comparing with the surrounding people: colleagues, family members, friends, and even strangers on the street. By watching others or talking about them, individuals decide on their personal qualities, skills, and abilities. From the social comparison theory perspective, people gossip because it is a way to compare other people with themselves. Moreover, a person might gossip about less fortunate and successful acquaintances because the comparison to this person makes a tattler feel better off (Yang et al., 2021).

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Besides, gossiping about a more prosperous colleague might “motivate one to partake in self-improvement” (Yang et al., 2021, p. 333). Therefore, social comparison theory assumes that gossips are an indispensable part of human nature and not necessarily evil that should be avoided. Another peculiar theory applicable to the given case was developed by Robin Dunbar at the end of the 20th century and is called the social gossip theory of language. Dunbar’s idea implies that the critical task of gossip is to maintain cohesion in big social groups. In addition to that, gossip appeared as a tool for communicating a message that could potentially save the lives of other people. Gossips could even become the foundation for friendship and enhance understanding of the existing social norms in a group (Hartung, Krohn, and Pirschtat, 2019; Peters et al., 2017). Indeed, personal experience suggests that rather often, communication and trust between two people or even more begins with gossiping about an annoying third party. From the description of the social comparison theory and the social gossip theory of language, it becomes clear that the efficiency of collaboration in a group, the joint agreement on the existing social norms, and the strength of interpersonal connections depend on whether team members talk about each other or not. Without a doubt, the conclusions might seem paradoxical because almost every child is taught by parents and teachers that gossip is a bad thing. Despite this fact, the experience and numerous studies prove that gossip is a significant social skill and is a ground for efficient communication in a team. This topic should arouse interest in the audience because it is dedicated to an urgent problem. Before analyzing the literature on gossip, I thought that the fact that team members discuss each other signifies that the gossipers are flawed and could not be trusted. Still, numerous studies prove that gossip should not be treated as a significant problem. Besides, people often try to guess whether others are tattling about them or not. And now it has become clear that it does not matter whether one is a good and prosperous person or an underdog because he or she will be talked about anyway. In addition to that, this topic should be interesting to others because it teaches them to participate in gossiping instead of avoiding it. Undoubtedly, no one forces us to humiliate colleagues behind their back, tell a lie about them, and taunt them. Instead, scholars explain how important it is to take part in such a discussion to make friends and blend in. Overall, this topic is curious because it occurred to be much more complex and versatile than was expected. To conclude, the present paper discusses such issues of interpersonal communication as gossip and examines two subtopics. The first one is about the reasons why people talk about each other, and the second one is about the existence of gender- and age-related bias against gossipers. Nonetheless, these two themes are only a small part of the chosen topic because there are several other aspects of gossiping that could be investigated from the socio-psychological perspective. The next step in this research might be the examination of gossip and personal traits. More precisely, it remains unclear whether a person who gossips with colleagues is necessarily a bad friend that could easily betray. The second direction of this research deals with how the managerial personnel could use gossip to improve the trust between coworkers and make the working atmosphere more productive and comfortable for them. These two directions of the study could be implemented by analyzing the existing literature, conducting focus groups with subordinates and administration staff members, and semi-structured interviews with experts in the field of social psychology.

References

Eckhaus, E., and Ben-Hador, B. (2019). Gossip and gender differences: a content analysis approach. Journal of Gender Studies, 28(1), 97-108.

Grealy, L. (2016). Cliche, gossip, and anecdote as supervision training. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 38(4), 341-359.

Hartung, F. M., Krohn, C., and Pirschtat, M. (2019). Better than its reputation? Gossip and the reasons why we and individuals with “dark” personalities talk about others. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1-16.

McAndrew, F. T. (2019). Gossip as a social skill. In F. Giardini and R.Wittek (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of gossip and reputation (pp. 173-193). Oxford University Press.

Peters, K., Jetten, J., Radova, D., and Austin, K. (2017). Gossiping about deviance: Evidence that deviance spurs the gossip that builds bonds. Psychological Science, 28(11), 1610-1619.

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Robbins, M. L., and Karan, A. (2020). Who gossips and how in everyday life?. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(2), 185-195.

Wu, J., Balliet, D., and Van Lange, P. A. (2016). Reputation, gossip, and human cooperation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(6), 350-364.

Yang, C., Minjock, R., Voss, B., and Colarelli, S. M. (2021). Understanding gossip in work organizations: From an evolutionary perspective. Quarterly Review of Business Disciplines, 7(4), 329-344.

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