Pssst! Gossip can do good
Trash talk can destroy a career, tarnish a reputation and sever the tightest bond. But it also has a less sinister, even beneficial, side. Read on for the dish.
Thanks to tabloids, Twitter and TMZ, gossip has a nasty reputation. The truth of the matter: it's actually one of the most important ways we interact within our social and professional networks, says Jack Levin, Ph.D., a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University and co-author of Gossip: The Inside Scoop. And with the exception of super-malicious rumourmongering, sharing and receiving intel can offer a real boon to your emotional and physical well-being.
"At the outset, gossip can be most entertaining and fun and can provide a shared experience and up your odds of connection with others," says Raema Sood, a Chicago-based social anthropologist. In fact, gossip can give you a mental edge: lift your mood and reduce stress, says a University of Michigan study-"as long as you speak strategically, not mindlessly," adds Sood.
Here, the golden rules, straight from the sources. Feel free to pass them on.
Take small bites
As with Facebook profiles and first dates, you don't want to reveal too much. "A nugget of gossip can go a long way," says Ben Dattner, Ph.D., an organisational psychologist in New York City and author of The Blame Game. For example, if you're tempted to go off about your boss, it may be smart to leak a small detail about her to a trusted ally in order to prevent yourself from boiling over and talking major smack to anyone who'll listen. A tidbit like her weird lunch habits is fair game, but never disclose extremely personal information, such as the fact that she had lipo or that she's headed for divorce court.
Be the bearer of good news
Spreading positive, if somewhat private, news- your BFF is pregnant or your co-worker just snagged a big fat raise-shows you're connected and tapped into your social networks. (Another bonus: you do your pal a solid, because the word gets out without her feeling like a braggart.) Just make sure you're not the only one who knows the goods before talking, says Dattner. You can say, "I'm so psyched for you! Is this classified info or can I toot your horn?"
Leverage your credit
As long as the juice is about work-and not about your co-worker's bad breath or botched haircut-some office gossip can work in your favour. "Small talk is our social currency. It's a shared social experience which may result in something bigger," says Sood. So if you hear a co-worker is being transferred to Hong Kong, go ahead and tell a few interested parties-they'll likely return the favour later on, which could help you land a better opportunity. Clueing your boss in on some need-to-know industry rumblings could also help your standing with her, as she'll appreciate the on-theground intel and view you as tuned in.
Compliment, then complain
Studies show that gossip is extraordinarily efficient at keeping group members in line-when done properly. If you want to give a friend a light kick in the pants, instead of venting to pals that she returned your dress stained or never paid back the money you lent her, share the news as a side dish to more upbeat info. Think 'Siya looked amazing in the pictures from Vandana's wedding! But hey, she still hasn't paid me for her share of the gift.' It prevents others from committing the same social crimes: people are much less likely to misbehave if they think others will talk about them, says Levin. Believe it or not, "the threat of being ostracised is often better at monitoring behaviour than the criminal justice system," he says.
Practise selective spilling
When you can't hold it in- you're human, after all- choose your audience wisely. If you have to gab to someone about another woman, consider telling a guy. A study from Knox College, Illinois, found that people are more interested in gossip about the same sex (because it conveys useful information about their own experiences), so there's a smaller chance he'll spread it around. Gossiping about a dude? Talk to one of your gal pals. And be mindful of body language: averted eyes, tight lips and tensing up might be signs that your audience doesn't want to hear it. Put the brakes on your blabbing, find a more sympathetic ear, or, safest of all, simply leave the gossip unsaid.
How to squash a rumour
When you need to squelch a nasty lie about yourself or someone you know, here's how to do it-fast.
When it's about you...
In this case, silence isn't golden, it implies guilt, so the worst thing you can do is play dumb or ignore the rumour, says Dattner. Your move: confront the source directly and immediately before the story spreads, because the more people who hear the lie, the harder it is to extinguish. Having a credible ally back you up and confirm your story can also help. If the tidbit is true, you have only one option: fess up.
When it's about a friend...
Gossip spreads piecemeal, so the next time someone tries to trash-talk a pal in front of you, ask him or her to be direct with the full story. Ask questions like, 'How do you know that?' or refute them with correct info by saying, 'Well, that can't be true, because I know for a fact that XYZ happened.' You can also use positive details to temper bad gossip, such as, 'She was great on the project we worked on together.' The gabber will usually back off, but it may be best to let your friend know about the scoop right away so she can do her own damage control.