Gossip: the word conjures up an image of judgmental people whispering, spreading lies, and boasting exaggerations that ruin reputations and create a toxic work environment. There’s no denying that negative gossip can fuel negativity, cause tension, and, in some snake pits, be absolutely abusive.
But gossip—done the right way—can actually be a good thing. Engaging in the water cooler banter can build relationships with your co-workers, give you insight to the inner workings of your company, and give you a heads up to changes afoot.
So if your MO is keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone, here’s why you might want to look up and join in on the conversation:
Get Insider Info
The CEO’s assistant is prone to forgetting to put appointments on her boss’ calendar—and then blaming others for her oversight. Marsha in Accounting is absolutely insufferable—unless you bring her chocolate. Emily in PR might not be coming back after her maternity leave—leaving a very cool position wide open.
When it comes to these kinds of details about your company and colleagues, being in the know can really help you out. Obviously, keep it classy: Don’t engage in mean-spirited conversation about someone’s personality or complain about someone’s work style—that definitely won’t get you anywhere but trouble. But making friends across the company and keeping an ear out for tips you might not know can give you an inside scoop that’s useful for your job and career.
Plan for Your Future
In many workplaces today, an air of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety has become the norm. Executives spend weeks planning behind closed doors, and employees live in fear that they will lose their jobs, be transferred, or be one of the “lucky ones” who do the job of three people for the salary of one.
If change is in the air, your boss may not be able to give you any information about what’s going on until final decisions are made. But if you don’t want to be blindsided by a reorganization, new bosses, or mass layoffs, seeking pertinent information about the future of your department or company from your colleagues might be the only way to get hints about what’s going on.
Of course, keep things you hear in perspective—a rumor from one person shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm, but regular rumblings might be a signal to dust off your resume. And make sure you’re not the one fueling the rumor mill fire. Telling others “I’m feeling concerned about being laid off. Is anyone else feeling the same way?” is appropriate. “Do you think that Mark’s getting fired?” is not.
The best that good gossip has to offer is camaraderie. Whether you’re dealing with a difficult boss or a looming reorganization, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that there’s support around you. Opening up to others can help you learn who shares your feelings or concerns, and may even give you insight into a new way of dealing with a problem you’re facing. When everyone is experiencing the same issues, talking can strengthen a group’s foundation, make the tough times tolerable, and help you reach a positive outcome as a team.
Just be careful to not let things down-spiral; when gossip darkens and becomes petty, it’s important to disengage. Sharing your feelings and perspective for the purpose of working towards a solution may be productive, but complaining isn’t.
See? It’s not all bad. It’s totally normal to be concerned about your job and your future, and perfectly fine to “gossip” with your co-workers about it—hey, they understand your situation better than anyone else. Just keep it kind, keep it constructive, and most importantly—keep in mind that anything you say could be passed along to someone else.