Updated: Dec 21, 2022
When you hear the word, gossip, what comes to mind? Gossip, at least in my mind and my circles, has a negative connotation. I can easily recall and am not proud of the many times, while eating steak and vegetables on the night before the road game, my NHL teammates and I would also feed on tasty morsels of negative gossip. But, what if I were to suggest that gossip can also be an important learned leadership skill?
John Maxwell has defined leadership as influence. Gossip influences powerfully. Gossip has a huge reach of delivery in one-to-one conversation, but what about electronic delivery through e-mail, text, what’s-App etc.? What about social media? The opportunity to deliver gossip is ever-increasing and impacting more people than ever before.
Over our many years of training executives, we have observed many mature leaders who have developed huge impact and influence within their teams utilize this linguistic skill intuitively, but very few leaders that we have worked with have developed the awareness, along with process, to coach it.
The Cambridge dictionary defines gossip as: “conversation or reports about other people's private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.” In the fields of sociology and psychology, however, gossip means “evaluative talk about a person who is not present.” Additionally, it is “the process of informally communicating value-laden information about members of a social setting.” For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the psychology and sociology definition where gossip is not necessarily slanderous or vile and does not have to be critical in nature.
Most gossip involves sharing who did what, with whom. Gossip does not only or always involve an absent third person. It is possible to gossip about oneself. For example, a person might strategically share information about oneself to bolster one’s status or appeal.
Gossip, whether it is negative or positive, serves several purposes.
Among these are:
to establish, develop, and maintain relationships with others
create strong group bonds
to define our social status within our group
to assess and manage reputations
to learn how to behave socially
to learn and reinforce group norms
to resolve conflicts
to influence others
In 2019, researchers Robbins & Karan found that people spend 52 minutes per day, on average, gossiping. You might tell yourself that you do not engage in gossip, but are you sure? Novelist Joseph Conrad once said, “Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”
According to Robbins & Karan, gossip includes positive, negative, and neutral information about acquaintances and celebrities, and can be categorized into three groups: social information, physical appearance, and achievement. Their findings revealed the following:
People who gossip a lot tend to be more extraverted.
Women engage in more neutral gossip than men; otherwise, both genders engage in gossip similarly.
Older people do not negatively gossip as much as younger people.
Gossip is usually neutral, but negative gossip is twice as common as positive gossip.
Most gossip is about someone the person knows.
Socio-economic and education status do not dictate how much a person gossips.
Intentional positive gossip is a powerful communication tactic for influential leaders. Intentional gossip must be affirming in nature, and this doesn’t necessarily come naturally for most leaders. Future-positive gossip attracts immediate attention and at the same time delivers long term utility. Intentional gossip starts with a plan to influence multiple people towards a better future.
In contrast, redactional negative gossip coming from a leader delivers devastation and spreads desertion. The words coming from the mouth, or computer, or pen of a leader accelerate team momentum in either direction. We like to remind leaders in our training sessions that “leaders get the culture they allow.” This seems to be doubly true with linguistics. The words uttered by a leader give everyone else the freedom to use similar words or replicate the same delivery. Words count… gossip injures, or gossip heals.
Whether positive or negative, gossip sends another long-lasting message to the listener: “I wonder what he or she is saying about me?”
Leaders wanting to increase their Intentional Positive Gossip skills might want to journal multiple accounts of past-positive attitudes, attributes and actions taken by people on their teams or in their influence. They can then build a future-positive activation list of desired future people impact and action.
Pastor and Leadership Expert Andy Stanley suggests the following about asking great questions:
• What you don't know can hurt you.
• There are things you will never know unless you ask.
• You will never ask unless you plan to ask.
Using Stanley’s last bullet and making a small adjustment in regard to intentional gossip journaling,
• You will never positively gossip unless you plan to.
• (my add on here) You will never positively gossip unless you place it in your journal.
Asking questions is another powerful tactic for intentionally delivering positive gossip, especially when the question is placed after a solid positive statement:
· “I heard that Jenny did an amazing job on that last team project. You were there; what was your perception?”
· “My sources tell me that Jimmy is turning into a solid leader! What are your people telling you?”
These types of leading questions invite feedback so even if the return gossip is not be 100% positive, it will head in the “building up” direction.
In her article, What is Positive Gossip? Kori Miller leaves us with a myriad of ideas around how to activate positive gossip:
“A co-worker completed a project on time and under budget. ‘She’s great with time and resource management.’
A co-worker received a promotion. Tell others why the person deserved the promotion. ‘It’s a perfect fit for her. She’s got amazing analytical skills.’
At a weekly or monthly meeting, have everyone share something positive they observed or appreciated about a co-worker that week/month. You can do this anonymously and read them as a group.
Share ‘thorns and roses’ at an end-of-week meeting. A rose is a positive thing that happened to you, and a thorn is an irritation. Ask group members to offer suggestions to resolve the thorn as appropriate.
Hunt the positive. Have team members share these on sticky notes attached to a wall or board in a common area.
Create a ‘spotlight’ wall to recognize team members’ work, achievements, and/or contributions. For example, ‘Tony’s ‘hit-the-ground-running’ approach helped me jumpstart a new project.’
Promote and follow the THINK rule. Ask yourself, is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind?”
Coming out of Covid and heading into another recession, leaders need new tools to build, enhance, and grow their people. Top performers leave negative managers and abandon negative cultures. Intentional Gossip is a learned skill that keeps on delivering positive messaging throughout your team!
Bertrand Russell suggests that
"No one gossips about other people's secret virtues."
Thats the point isn't it... this is the opportunity to be different, to stand out as a leader, to build our people!
Many of our corporate clients are engaging our services to energize their teams, focus their cultural mindset, and brainstorm processes around how to maximize their team COMMUNICATION.