5 Benefits of Gossip (Even Negative Gossip)

Talking behind someone's back can actually lead to positive change.

Posted Jun 22, 2015

Tyler Olson/Shutterstock
Source: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

In a study conducted by Harris Interactive asking more than 1,500 employed adults to name their biggest pet peeves about their jobs, workplace gossip topped the list, cited as Number One by 60% of respondents. Yet, relationship experts estimate that 65% to 80% of our daily conversations are about other people, so it can't always a bad thing, right?

That's true. Here are five benefits of workplace gossip:

  1. It gets out what’s really bugging you.

    Deborah Beroset, a communications expert for leadership training company  Landmark, says that sometimes the urge to gossip isn’t really about the person who is irritating you, but about a situation that’s become untenable. Gossiping can be an opportunity to assess the underlying reason for the situation: Do you feel overworked or under-appreciated? Is it really your coworkers fault? Sometimes asking for changes in the work environment is the real issue.
     
  2. It encourages cooperation.

    Researchers at Stanford University found that when people learn about the behavior of others through gossip, they often use this information to align with those deemed cooperative. Those who have behaved selfishly can then be excluded from group activities, based on the prevailing gossip. This serves the group's collective good, since selfish people may exploit more cooperative individuals for their own gain.
     
  3. It relieves stress.

    According to the Stanford study, another benefit of gossip is that it relieves anxiety. In an experiment, researchers found that participants who witnessed someone behaving badly experienced stress and an increase in heart rate. Warning others about what they saw, however, lessened the effect.
     
  4. It fosters self-improvement.

    All gossip doesn’t have to be negative. Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that hearing good stories about others provided motivation for self-improvement; even when the gossip is negative, there is often a positive outcome for those being “targeted.” The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that when people know others may gossip about them, they are more likely to learn from a bad experience and reform their behavior by cooperating more in future group settings.
     
  5. It provides a reality check.

    Not that I'm advocating gossip, but there's nothing wrong with getting a reality check. “If you want to know whether someone else is having a similar experience, you can simply ask in a non-accusatory manner whether anyone else has experienced the same phenomenon,” says clinical psychologist Andrea Andrzejczak of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. "That way," she says, "You’re not actually dissing the person, you’re simply inquiring."

Jennifer Haupt is a freelance writer based in Bellevue, Washington.