This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
Gossip is a behavior that has traditionally been viewed as harmful in organizations. However, a more balanced perspective has emerged in recent years that suggests gossip is not inherently good or bad but that certain factors determine its impact. Adopting this lens, the authors proposed that by focusing on the valence (positive or negative nature) of the gossip, important benefits of gossip for teams can be uncovered.
As recent research suggests there is value in distinguishing negative gossip from positive forms, the authors examined how positive and negative team gossip affect members’ “social loafing” behavior and ultimately impact team performance. Social loafing refers to the tendency of a team member to be less engaged and devoted in collective work than they are in individual work. Gossip can be defined as the process by which the gossiper (i.e., the sender) communicates an evaluation to the gossip-receiving party (i.e., the receiver) about another member of the team (i.e., the target of the gossip). Together, these evaluations, positive or negative in nature, influence team motivation and confidence.
Through a longitudinal field study, the authors analyzed the responses of 272 undergraduate students at a large public university in the Southwestern United States taking an introductory management course. Study participants were arranged into 63 teams as part of a semester-long course team project. This project required teams to act as consultants by interviewing an organization, identifying problems, and then detailing solutions the organization could use to improve its practices based on organizational behavior principles.
1.) Team gossip is not inherently beneficial or harmful, but its valence is a crucial factor that shapes its outcomes.
2.) Positive gossip can increase team members’ favorable evaluations of team competence, thereby reducing their social loafing and ultimately improving team performance.
3.) Negative gossip can undermine team performance indirectly by increasing social loafing behaviors at work.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1.) try to change attitudes about gossip and foster a more nuanced and open view, 2.) be aware that actions to suppress all workplace gossip may unknowingly harm motivation by stifling a crucial process by which teams communicate positive evaluations, and 3.) understand that positive gossip offers an alternative source of agency for team members, organically putting an evaluation feedback system into motion.
Spoelma, T. M., & Hetrick, A. L. (2021). More than idle talk: Examining the effects of positive and negative team gossip. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 42(5), 604-618.
Location of Article
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