e) gossip and rumours

Survivors are those who are savvy enough to anticipate power shifts and swiftly adjust to them, as well as those who can manipulate them. Gossiping which involves rumours is an exchange of key information, with networking an important part of the process, ie meeting with the right people with the right information at the right time. The informal knowledge transfer that occurs at places such as the water cooler, coffee/tea/lunch room is underestimated. These places are where the "real work" gets done: ideas happen and congeal, and get passed on

Generally official communication is less effective than gossiping and rumours.

As humans are social animals, gossiping and rumours are a way of making sense of the environment, ie it is human instinct to warn others of potential threats so they can prepare. There are 3 broad areas of office rumours:

i) strategic direction

ii) reporting structure

iii) job security, training and career paths

Furthermore, gossiping and rumours are a useful barometer of staff morale. If there is a high level of gossip and rumour, staff are feeling anxious and uncertain. On the other hand, gossiping and rumours demonstrate that people care; people only talk about things that are important to them!!

At the same time, it is unwise to ignore gossip and/or rumours; if left unchecked, they can become folklore and pseudo-fact!!! Gossiping and rumours need to be either confirmed or corrected.

On the other hand, it is a good idea to ignore gossipers and rumour-mongers as

"...social networks have a way of sorting these people out. Too much sensationalism or untruths and you'll lose respect and credibility..."

Prashant Bordia as quoted by Brad Hatch, 2006c

Thus managers need to utilize both the official and unofficial channels of information as ways to communicate, as long as this communication is performed in a climate of trust and openness.

. Empathy and mind reading.

These 2 skills are the building blocks of gossip. People are much more likely to hear secrets if they appear trustworthy and sympathetic. Furthermore, people with the skills of guessing what others are thinking tend to ask better and more probing questions. People are programmed for friendliness, including peaceful social alliances and negotiations with win-win outcomes.

For organisations, empathy and friendliness are positive dynamics. Furthermore, commitment and loyalty will more likely occur when employees are friendly to each other. On the other hand, empathy can lead us to imagine that people are more similar to ourselves, plus more competent and trustworthy, than they might be. For example, our natural tendency to sympathize with others can result in our excusing their weaknesses and/or read more substance into their work or personal experiences than truly exists. At the same time, our programming for classifications can make us more severe on those in the out-group, ie we focus on and exaggerate the differences we perceive.

. Contest and display

Status in tribal groupings was acquired via public competitions. The underlying purpose of these competitions was to impress others. There is an ingrained male desire to do public battle and display virility and competence which persists today. This results in males more frequently choosing competition to cooperation. These inborn differences between men and women impact on an organisation

"...we may wish human beings were more rational, but our brains, created for a different time and place, get in the way......in choices......one can expect agendas of emotion, loss aversion, over- confidence, categorical thinking, and social intrusion to continue regularly to prevail. Evolutionary psychology thus suggests how important it is for us to have a clear view of our biased natures so that we can construct a mind-set to guard against their worst consequences..."

Nigel Nicholson, 1998


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