Gossip – An International or American phenomenon?

Gossips in the Altstadt in Sindelfingen, Germany.Image from WikipediaGossip is probably the least effective form of communication. Do the French or Spaniards do more of it? Are Americans less likely to pass along “bad” rumors? Do Chinese gossip, are Japanese or Indians also involved in gossiping about their colleagues?

I don’t know who does it the most, but everyone seems to gossip at work. Joseph Conrad said, “Gossip is what no one claims to like—but everyone enjoys.”

A boss in a small company recently leaned over the desk of her young assistant and started filling him in on the details of various people working in the office. And what she said wasn’t very nice.

What do you say if your boss [or another colleague] tells you things that are either unsubstantiated or basically just mean? Do you smile and nod, do you put in your own opinion and add some details that you heard from someone else?

This was a question that one of my foreign-born clients asked me; she felt very awkward in social situations, which demanded that she react in some way or another to gossip – and probably in an approving way, at least when talking to her boss.

As a young (foreign or American born) professional it is not a good idea to help fan the rumor mill [to contribute to gossip already out there].

Even if it is true that Americans gossip, it is also true that in this culture (and I think more so in the Silicon Valley where many people know each other), speaking badly about others is frowned upon. America is basically a country where things are positive, solutions and optimism are preferred over rehashing old problems and looking for someone to blame or someone to malign.

I remember a German entrepreneur several years ago, who bad-mouthed so many people in this community that no one wanted to do business with him and avoided him when he appeared at events. He has since moved away.

Some points to consider:

Don’t spread gossip. It will come back to haunt you AND, you may be the next victim. I recently read about a company in the US, where if people gossip about someone, they have to go and tell that person to his/her face what they said. It turned out, for instance, that one women’s coming late and leaving early was because she had a different contract than the others. Not, that she worked less and didn’t do her share.

Another company’s president – somewhere in the US – created a policy that people who gossip in his company would be thrown out. And apparently, they dismissed several employees because they wouldn’t stop talking poorly about others behind their backs.

How refreshing to have a policy which protects employees from the negativity of others.

So what could the young assistant do when the boss starts in on the company gossip?

Smile, be pleasant, come back with comments such as: “Really, ok.” “hmm, I never noticed that, X was always very pleasant to me.”

It is unfortunately not easy to be obviously disapproving and say, “this really makes me uncomfortable when you gossip about others in front of me”.

But countering with harmless remarks, smiling, and just being quiet usually gives the other person a clue that you are not up to contributing to the news that is going around.

Please let me know what situations you have been in and how you got around them. If you have advice to offer, something that worked for you, we want to hear about it.

Please also write to me if you have the newspaper/magazine sources where the two stories appeared of the companies, which discourage gossip.

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