Can it hurt you in the workplace? – We love to chat, but we abhor nasty gossip. Gossip in the workplace can be a weapon or a gift, affecting both power and influence in the office. New research shows that depending on how this weapon is used, its influence can be either strong or weak, so we can use it to our advantage in the future.

This study identifies the subtle ways that people who are the targets of gossip are negatively evaluated during formal work meetings, including veiling criticism with sarcasm or talking up another colleague for comparison. It also discusses how efforts to embark on negative gossip can be effectively (and subtly) derailed, by changing the subject, targeting someone else for criticism or by pre-emptive comments that are positive.

Sociologist Tim Hallett says, “When you’re sitting in that business meeting, be attentive to when the talk drifts away from the official task at hand to people who aren’t present. Be aware that what is going on is a form of politics and it’s a form of politics that can be a weapon to undermine people who aren’t present. But it also can be a gift. If people are talking positively it can be a way to enhance someone’s reputation.” And we all know that, while evil exists in the world, the best way to fight it is by being positive!

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