If gossip is “social chit-chat”, how is it affecting your team? Undermining your energy and direction or can you use it to your benefit?
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Oxford Professor Robin Dunbar defines gossip as “social chit-chat”, and suggests it makes up over 60% of our conversations. It plays an important part in our social bonding with each other and in groups. It’s how we gather lots of our information and also helps us form our alliances or coalitions. Gossip is also considered a form of “grooming”, which Andrew O’Keefe in his book ““Hardwired Humans”” suggests that on average we spend about 20% of our day doing for and with those around us. I highly recommend this book if you are looking to understand adversity towards change.
Gossip and Leadership
We’ve all experienced how what did or didn’t or should or shouldn’t happen is discussed around “the water-cooler”, right? This is a barometer around a leadership style’s degree of “inclusion”. If everyone is able to participate and contribute before a decision is taken, then democracy prevails, increasing their likelihood of supporting the initiative. Typically loud and dominant personalities succeed in drowning out such contribution, enabling the undermining of initiatives. This allows gossip to become an outlet for such disgruntled behavior.
Company politics are fuelled by and laced with gossip, easily becoming the conduit of discontent and gathering much negative emotion and energy. That can derail the most diligently planned and executed initiatives.
Noticing gossip in your teams around you, is a potentially loud message about your or your managers leadership style. While we can point the finger of blame on others, this is where the 3 fingers in that hand gesture could be firmly pointing back at us. Please realize the power of gossip as such a barometer.
Gossip and Self Worth
When people with a high need for significance that are also struggling with their “self worth” don’t feel included or empowered, gossip can also become a favourite past-time. This is where “oh woe is me stories” can be supported by examples of perceived exclusion or being “taken for granted“. And they can get lost in the perpetuation of their “story”. If you recognize this as one of your personal behaviour patterns, please do whatever it takes to address it, no matter how “badly” you feel let down.
Gossip as Your Friend
More positively, O’Keeffe provides superb examples of where and how we can leverage gossip in our favour. People love and remember stories so much better than words. Most see through “spin”. I too remember situations where my boss spent the night with us fixing an error in what our customer needed for his success the next morning. That made much more of an impression on us than the typical blame that can follow, and paints such a better picture afterwards than words like “we are committed to customer service“. Gossip of such stories are empowering and energizing. They invoke a pride of association – all powerful emotions people taken seriously want to leverage.
In my blog “Drip Feeding” I outline a technique of guiding an initiative to successfully avoid the more typical obstructions. O’Keeffe describes many great examples in what he calls his “gossip test” which asks the question: “what do we want them to say after the meeting?” and leverages that thinking to plan the right approach. And then “testing” it carefully on selected influencers that will help support and enable that outcome, rather than obstruct it (by the right instead of the wrong gossip).
What did your description of the first day of your last new job say about how seriously your new company took it’s people? Did it confirm the “spin” of their interview, or did your doubts start right there?
How much time do you invest in “Walkabout“, asking relevant questions and listening to not only what, but how it’s said? Are you “Interested or Interesting?” What will people gossip about you and your style?
Gossip spreads like wildfire around organizations. Leaders can influence speed and spread through leveraging examples of “walk the walk” behaviour we want to encourage.
The grapevine is a very powerful playing field working for or against you depending on how you learn to play it. This is where using a coach as a sounding board to plan through all the options is such a useful tool, albeit still only used so sparingly.
Gossip – So What?
So what role does gossip play in your life? Do positive or negative insights above prevail? Can you see the power of it? What will you do now to maintain an awareness of it in the coming weeks and let those around you know how you want to leverage its power?
Tim Boyle says
an interesting one Heiner and one I probably wouldn’t have read up until a few months ago when a book I was reading at the time (name escapes me) suggested gossip is the differentiator of humans vs. other animals. I am still sceptical of that statement – we make some pretty wild claims – but since then it has got me thinking and listening to gossip in every day society.
Admit it or not we all Love It!!
Cheers, Tim Boyle