As the latest series of Married at First Sight unfolds on the TV, you may be like me and scratching your head and wondering why anyone would subject themselves to it (either participating or watching). There’s no doubt it’s good drama with a heady mix of emotions, gossip and intrigue.
Like other productions of a similar genre, it’s easy to get hooked. You sit back and watch the drama unfold. Assess the contestants from all angles. Laugh or cringe at their misfortune. Comment on what they do and say and how they look. Perhaps judge, ridicule and compare, while cheering for the underdog and hoping the TV show villain (because there’s always one) comes undone.
The same happens at work. People sit back and gossip, size people up, even revel in the misfortune of those they don’t like, spread rumours and play politics. On the days when your boss or a colleague is driving you nuts, it can be easy to turn to teammates and moan about how bad, annoying or frustrating they are. It’s comforting to share your pain. You feel relieved and validated when they confirm your assessment of their character.
Gossiping comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s something that, at times, we all do. As Author Joseph Conrad remarked, “Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys“.
Gossiping makes you feel good because it’s part of our evolutionary psychology. Dr Robin Dunbar, the author of Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, advises that it’s a form of social behaviour that helps large groups bond. We feel connected with someone when we gossip, just as we like being part of the in-group when someone shares a secret with us.
Of course, being labelled the office gossip isn’t a career-enhancing move. You can over-share at work and then later wish you’d kept your own counsel. You can confide in someone only to later find your comments have been shared with others. You can share confidences that aren’t yours to share.
So now’s the time for a reality check. Be honest and check yourself. Do you:
- Enjoy office intrigue?
- Create drama or overplay issues and heighten drama?
- Find yourself in the middle of workplace gossip?
- Gossip about your colleagues and/or your boss?
- Share secrets confidentially shared with you?
If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ or ‘occasionally’ to those questions, you’ll want to consider how this behaviour helps or hinders your reputation and relationships. While gossiping may feel good in the short-term, it isn’t productive, and it can damage and destroy relationships.
Gossiping is different from sharing with a confidante and working through how to process and react to an event. Sharing how you feel is healthy as long as it is constructive, you’ve selected who to share with wisely, and the discussion is future-focused, rather than filled with ‘what ifs’, recriminations and retributions.
When you’ve had a bad day, before you seek to offload and gossip, check the intent of why you are sharing:
- Check you aren’t sharing as a way of unloading your hurt on someone else or because you want to bring someone else down to your level.
- Check your sharing isn’t just unproductive gossip that is all about making your boss or colleague ‘the enemy’, so you feel better.
- Be careful who you share your feelings with, as your so-called trusted colleague may not do you any favours with that piece of information they now hold.
When you are sharing, ensure you are doing it from a place of learning and growth. Ideally, examine your role in the situation. Consider what you are learning about yourself and others and what you will do differently next time.
Tough times and bad days at work are a great learning source and a perfect time to reflect and take stock.
As the well known stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said: “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy“.