Gossip Is the Grease: Energy Refocused For Real Connection, Confirmation And Learning

Young man telling gossips to his woman colleague at the office. Intrigues and wasting time concept

Pope Francis said recently that gossiping is a “plague worse than COVID.”  It divides us, he said.  “Please brothers and sisters, let’s try to not gossip,” said the Pope. “Gossip is a plague worse than COVID. Worse. Let’s make a big effort: No gossiping!”  For clarity purposes, this blog accepts the definition of gossip as talking about another person(s) when they’re not “in the room” with you. This includes virtual rooms such as on phones, video platforms and social media exchanges.

I was once challenged during a management development course to not gossip for an entire week.  A WEEK!  Yikes.  It was both challenging and fulfilling as it pushed my brain to create new opportunities for real stories in real time.  My facilitator told us that “Gossip was fun, it’s the grease that makes daily life exciting, it makes you feel important that you may know something someone else doesn’t.” After a week, I had to agree that this time was liberating for me.  Now, years later, can I say that I’ve been gossip free since that magical week?  Hell no.

I have remembered it however. Reading the words from a very brief article reporting on one of the world’s most visible and influential religious leaders brought back memories of that experiment many years ago and reminded me how now, in this present moment, gossip is an even greater mystery of the human condition.

And what about gossip technology?  Social media and its water carrier, the smartphone, have given us greater incentive to gossip, haven’t they?  We are rewarded with “likes” and coveted “followers” (interesting terms there, don’t you think?) and all it really is – is gossip! (For the record, I think the modern iteration of the smartphone is the greatest and worst invention society ever created. Thanks Gene Roddenberry)

Can we channel our gossiping energy for good?  I say, “Yes we can!”

A recent meta-analysis of 467 participants gossiping for approximately 52 minutes per day on average, found that most gossip was considered neutral and about social information, and in some cases actually boring. Fifteen percent of the group engaged in negative gossip and another nine percent found a way to gossip positively.  It went on to say that frequent gossipers tended to be more extroverted. Women engaged in more neutral gossip than men, and younger people tended to negatively gossip more than older people. These naturalistic observation findings dispel some stereotypes about this prevalent yet misunderstood behavior.

Let’s focus not on the negative version of conversation’s grease, there are plenty of studies, analysis and guidance on the why’s, don’ts and detrimental effects to any organization. Let’s chat about the good that gossip can bring:

  1. Gossip is a learning platform.  In a neutral or positive way, gossip can inform us of what is happening out there if we trust the source. We can find out what works, doesn’t work and provide movement.
  2. Gossip actually creates community. It’s a connection between us, an exchange of ideas, activities, and instances of others’ solutions to solving problems and living life. For example, we can sense where we might belong based on how others exercise core values that are just like ours.
  3. Gossip is the Ref.  When someone behaves inappropriately, then we can step in and say “enough!”  Pope Francis states that the proper way to check someone back into what’s acceptable is by first discreetly admonishing that person, “not to judge him but to help him realize what he has done.” It’s interesting that those who are admonished for bad talk, can react by asking for acceptance back into the community, and that they typically perform in a much more cohesive and productive manner upon their return.

I am currently conducting some market research within the space I hold in the coaching marketplace.  As I start to see trends in the responses, it’s interesting that, in the age of Covid and the onset of a more permanent #WFH existence, many young emerging professionals (especially sales professionals) are longing for the camaraderie of the office space.  Even those who tend to be introverted — maybe occupying the “Lone Wolf” sales persona — still yearn for the community of common interests, desires, directions and outcomes.  It’s not to say that older, more experienced and accomplished professionals don’t have these emotions.  However, if you have been a #WFH’r for an extended period of time and have weathered previous storms, you have the mental fitness to deal with the periods of isolation. Certain professions lean toward a more nomadic life-work-style. Sales, service and implementation positions move around a lot.  Those in more administrative and research positions tend to congregate in central locations.  

So what am I saying?  

Gossip your way out of isolation. 

Am I OK? By connecting with others and polling who they know and what they’re doing, we can gain some sense of shared experiences.  “I feel like I’m not getting things done, how about you?” “Yes, me too, and I’ve heard that John and Jane are also troubled by this.”  If it’s from a perspective of understanding, it can provide comfort that you are not the only one.  Remember, it requires trusted sources, otherwise when discussing vexing issues, we can create stress and anxiety.  Keep it about forward movement.

Are you OK?  “His head is spinning off on this issue!”  OK, and why is that?  If the same things come out of the same people about others, then maybe it’s time to reach out directly to that source and say “I’m here, and I’m ready to listen and learn.  This seems to be really bothering you.” In coaching, we say focus on the person not the thing.  Gossip can be a white flag that someone needs a way out of a particularly troublesome situation.  How cool would it be to step toward someone instead of remaining in the audience and watching the train wreck.  This is an example of how gossip can play an amazingly positive role, if you can convert it to a more meaningful connection.

Preventing negative behavior is easily handled by choosing not to participate, redirecting the tenor of a gossipy conversation, and directly calling out inappropriate exchanges from productive ones.  In terms of this blog’s perspective that gossip provides positive or neutral gossip, we really are not completely sure about its purposes within society and culture.  There are some truly extreme ideas and some more traditional codes of comportment. You may find my thoughts on this a little bit of a stretch into what gossip really is, a challenge on accepted societal understanding, and you may be right. Give me a call or send me a note, and I will reeeeally tell you what I heard about all this…

If you want a different way to communicate with others, whether professionally or personally, I invite you to reach out and explore the possibilities with me.  What could your next conversation be like if your approach was to focus on their agenda first? Here’s a link to start creating that discussion right now!

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