Most people have a general idea of what “gossiping” entails and often, we tend to see it as either a trivial, or even as a morally reproachable type of behavior. At the same time however, gossip, which is defined as exchanging information about somebody behind their back, is an activity that many people engage in. In organizations, in which people work together and are interdependent, that is, influence one another in various ways, gossip is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Interestingly, research examining the impact of gossiping on teams in organizations, has thus far not led to conclusive insights. On the one hand, studies have sometimes underlined the negative “lay” perspective on gossip, by demonstrating that gossiping is associated with distrust in teams, and lowered team cooperation and viability. On the other hand, other studies have demonstrated that gossip can motivate people to behave more in accordance with (cooperative) group norms and therefore has been found to enhance cooperation and team outcomes. As such, gossip is currently an “unknown force” in organizations; we cannot answer the question of when and why it is functional or dysfunctional for work groups.
The purpose of our research project “The unknown force: How gossip shapes the functioning and performance of organizational groups” is to change this. In this project, which is financed by an ERC Consolidator Grant, by using different research methods, we aim to increase understanding of the meaning and (dys)functionality of gossip in organizations. Some examples of our research questions are:
- Why do people gossip?
- What motivates gossiping?
- How does gossip affect how individuals behave in the context of work groups, and why?
- How does gossip affect group outcomes?
- Which organizational factors help to enhance the positive and mitigate the negative effects of gossip?
By examining these issues, we aim to contribute to fundamental scientific insights into group functioning and to provide organizations with the necessary understanding to develop interventions.