Gossip in the organization – useful or harmful?

Zala Ákos | Human Telex Consulting managing director

Zala Ákos | Human Telex Consulting managing director

Recently, I came across the following colourful, colourful and thought-provoking image on LinkedIn:

This is a great guide! But it got me thinking, what about the role of gossip in organizational communication?

Or more specifically, how does gossip affect the commitment of our employees to the organization? Because there is gossip, that’s for sure. What matters in how much (and whether it is postive or negative, and although we prefer to use ‘positive gossip’ in group coaching, it’s not the same thing) and how destructive.

For many years now, our company has been distributing a great training film by Video Arts, titled: Mouth to Mouth, or Communication and the Organisation (https://htconsulting.hu/project/szajrol-szajra-avagy-a-kommunikacio-es-a-szervezet/) and the subject of which is corporate gossip. It first and foremost draws attention to the responsibility of managers – it has taught me the eternal lesson that what we don’t tell, what we don’t give information about, people fill in the blanks with ‘news’ themselves. 

My own experience confirms the phenomenon, also known from international research, that in nine out of ten companies, employees identify internal communication as a weakness of the company.

It is almost impossible to communicate too much! I know many managers who are tired of “I told you so” or “I wrote it in a circular”. Well, the rule of to do the right things well – i.e. true news, communicated clearly – is complemented by the principle of “often and consistently, through different channels” – and success is unlikely to be 100%. But it does matter if it comes close! And, of course, in organisations in transition, thoughtful organisational communication is even more valued. And yes, unsurprisingly, it is the responsibility of management to develop it in the first place.

Recently, a client of ours, whith whom we were working on organisational culture development, embarked on a large-scale organisational transformation at the same time. It was so large-scale that it started to eclipse the otherwise very sympathetic culture shaping. So I took it upon myself to say to the organisation’s number one leader that there was a lot of chatter around the transformation, so that we needed to communicate more.

“I can’t right now, my hands are tied” came the reply.
“But that’s no good, people are spreading all sorts of rumours,” I said.
“I know, it’s a textbook mistake. But since I can’t officially communicate at this moment, I’ve instructed my closest colleagues to spread true, positive rumours, so at least they’re circulating.”

Well, that may be so. But it’s really not textbook-like. I prefer thoughtful, multi-channel, consistent and likeable communication. The technological landscape of the training film I have already quoted (and recommended) has changed in the 20 years since it was made, but its key message remains valid today: there is no substitute for face-to-face communication.

(P.S.: The head of the organisation mentioned in the article, when his hands were free, went on a personal road-show in his units.)

Ákos Zala / consultant, CEO