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Did you hear? Gossiping with coworkers can be a good thing

Nearly 15 per cent of all workplace emails contain some form of gossip — and it's not necessarily a bad thing, according to workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman.

A little banter can help employees get the lay of the land, says Jennifer Newman

Gossiping with your coworkers can be beneficial — as long as it's not malicious, says workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman. (Getty Images/Image Source)

Human beings are social creatures, so naturally a little bit of gossip can slip into our daily talk — especially at work.

According to a 2012 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology, nearly 15 per cent of all workplace emails contain some form of gossip.

Psychologist Jennifer Newman said too much gossip can be highly toxic in a workplace, damaging relationships between coworkers.

But when done the right way, it can be beneficial.

She joined host Rick Cluff on CBC's The Early Edition to discuss what she calls 'good gossip'.

Rick Cluff: How can gossip be good for a workplace?

Gossip is usually understood as malicious talk about another worker who's not present. It's to harm the absent colleague or supervisor, damage their reputation or undermine them in some way — or, just say mean things to spread around.

But there are times when gossip has a positive side.

It's used in organizations to gather and validate information, to learn how to succeed and what to avoid, or to get the lay of the land of who's who, so to speak.

For example: I talked to a worker who would talk to younger guys about a carpenter on a construction site. He told anyone who was new that a certain carpenter tended to yell at anyone who interrupted him when he was trying to concentrate.

He told them, "Don't worry about him, he'll yell at you in the morning and forget all about it by noon."

What are some others ways gossip is good for you?

To figure out expectations and identify short cuts to getting things done.

It can help you find out if your performance level is on par with everyone else's.

If gossip can be positive, why do workplaces frown on it?

Mean gossip can be a way to bully or harass a worker. And, workers hurt by it will be absent, get less done and become stressed.

But that said, you'll see networking is often encouraged, which is a form of organized gossip.

When you network you can be discussing how to navigate the workplace — who to talk to, how to get things done fast, who to approach cautiously, who will help you, and how to read different people's moods.

Without gossip, workers are cut off from important information that could make them a success.

How can a worker tell if they're engaging in the good kind of gossip?

If you are talking to someone at work about a colleague and they are trying to damage them in some way.

Make them appear foolish or crazy. That's the kind of gossip employers don't want. If you are talking about a situation you are in and want to solve it, getting others' honest thoughts is good.

Then acting on their advice works.

If you are talking about something that upset you, but aren't out for revenge, then debriefing with a colleague can help.

Positive gossip about others' successes or nice things they did for you, is good too.

How can employers encourage more of the good gossip and less of the bad?

If harmful gossip comes to light, talk to the workers involved. Let them know gossiping to hurt or get revenge isn't acceptable.

If the gossip points to problems at the job site, deal with the issues you're hearing about.

This interview has been edited and condensed

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Did you hear? Gossiping with coworkers can be a good thing, according to psychologist