November 13th, 2009 | Published in Work
There was an article in the NYTimes the other day about workplace gossip. Considering that office/school/whatever gossip is something that everybody deals with almost all the time in life, it’s funny how little anybody knows about gossip or how to fight it.
I spent about two years working in a place where office gossip compacted my soul just about every day, made me want to scream in my gray cubicle, made me want to wander the streets muttering to myself and drooling; and just about everybody I know over 30 has had a similar experience at least sometime in their lives.
But nobody knows how to deal with gossip, or at least I never do, beyond a.) going along with it and secretly hating yourself, b.) laughing uncomfortably and saying nothing, or c.) saying something about how annoying you think gossip is, and then looking like a loser and risking becoming the target of the apmorphous and cancer-like gossip.
Gossip tends to be pretty toxic and is half the reason I don’t ever want to work in a drab office again. The other half is that I find most offices drab. But if somebody could figure out why gossip happens, how to stop gossip, and what exactly people are trying to accomplish by backbiting and spewing awful shit about each other day in, day out, I would give that person a high five.
So, here’s the article. The only really meaningful suggestion it makes for anti-gossipers is letter (C.) from above. But, still, it’s always good to know that maybe it might make a difference if you’re going to stick your neck out and look like a chode:
The earlier studies found that once someone made a negative comment about a person who wasn’t there, the conversation would get meaner unless someone immediately defended the target. Otherwise, among both adults and teenagers, the insults would keep coming because there was so much social pressure to agree with the others.
I should add that I think it is not really the meanness of gossip that is the really sucky thing about it, but the feeling of powerlessness you experience when you are around someone who is gossipy. Even if you agree with them, or like them, it can be sucky to feel like there is literally nothing you can do to stem the flow of their negativity. And it is usually only a small minority in a group that are the real gossip instigators. Everybody else tends to go along for the ride, I think, because they don’t know how else to deal with it.
Anyway, I’ve had my soapbox moment for the day, I feel better.