If you hear about a co-worker who is out late or ill-prepared before every presentation or important meeting, would you call on them to be a part of your team on project? Probably not. The information about her habits was useful because it helped you make a better decision for your team. If you don’t pick the teams and you end up having to work directly with her, you’ll also have an idea of what to expect and not be disappointed or surprised when she doesn’t pull her weight. Is it always the case that she’s irresponsible and wouldn’t make a good addition? Probably not always, but if you have a lot riding on the success of a project, you’re more likely to pick someone who seems up to the job.
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology suggests that “good” gossip allows for co-workers to gather information about one another, promotes bonding, and protects workplace productivity. Like all information, gossip is a resource and should be used. Gossip in this sense is neither inherently “good” nor “bad,” but rather the trick is in how it’s used. If the results are positive, like you hearing about someone having a skill useful to your next project, then that’s positive gossip.
Positive gossip highlights the achievements of another person while suggesting a course of action which benefits the speaker, the person being talked about, or the company as a whole.
The study suggests that there also is value in negative gossip. Negative gossip highlights faults or degrades someone’s performance, like when your co-worker complains how so-and-so is always late, and has the lamest excuses. It seems counter-intuitive, but the study suggests hearing about other people not doing a good job makes whoever hears it want to pick up the slack.