A little bird told me so...: The emotional, attributional, relational and team-level outcomes of engaging in gossip

Shimul Melwani, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the consequences, both positive and negative, of initiating and participating in gossip in work-related contexts. While a commonly held perspective is that gossip is harmful in that it hurts relational interactions by encouraging coalition-building and engendering divisiveness, an alternative hypothesis is that gossip's emotional attributes, can also help to foster stronger relationships and help individuals navigate complex environments. Specifically, I explore the influence of gossip at multiple levels of analysis: individual, dyadic and group. In Study 1, a laboratory experiment that looks at the short-term benefits of engaging in gossip (versus two control conditions, self-disclosure and task discussion), I find that individuals who engage in gossip experience higher positive emotions, energy and motivation but lower levels of state self-esteem. These gossiping dyads also experience dyadic benefits of relationship closeness and cooperation. Study 2 explored both the reputational and team-level outcomes of gossip. This study showed that team members who engaged in gossip were seen as being less trustworthy. Furthermore, gossip centrality had an inverted U-shaped curvilinear relationship with perceptions of competence. Study 2 showed that gossip about team members negatively influenced team outcomes such as psychological safety, cooperation and viability and increased team-level perceptions of politics while gossip about individuals outside the team has a positive effect on these outcomes, enhancing levels of team cooperation and decreasing perceptions of politics at the team-level. More detailed mediation analyses showed that team process variables, psychological safety and perceptions of politics measured halfway through the course of the team, mediated the negative relationship between intra-team gossip density and team cooperation and team viability measured at the end of the team's lifecycle. In terms of the relationship between extra-team gossip density and team cooperation, it was mediated by decreased team perceptions of politics. This research contributes to the emerging field of inquiry on gossip by providing a comprehensive model of the consequences of gossip at three different levels of analysis as well as a strong empirical test of the effect of gossip on organizationally-relevant outcomes.^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Management|Psychology, Industrial|Sociology, Organizational

Recommended Citation

Shimul Melwani, "A little bird told me so...: The emotional, attributional, relational and team-level outcomes of engaging in gossip" (January 1, 2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3509335.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3509335

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