Granted, in its worst form office gossip can be malicious, even career-ending. The unhappy, self-destructive person specializing in this kind of malice tends to spread such rumors to curry favor with others—or to inflict pain. Such a gossiper must be reported to the boss and stopped or fired—before too much damage is inflicted on individuals or the organization's culture.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, is relatively benign gossip, which tends to be about co-workers who stand out in some way or authority figures whose lives seem mysterious to the staff. Such gossip (generally true, in my experience), serves to spread news speedily, test our perceptions about people with whom we have scant contact, and even deepen informal bonds at work.
It may seem paradoxical, but for managers, listening to gossip and openly addressing any misperceptions can go a long way toward improving communication and morale. When it's humming, the grapevine can yield valuable insights into what employees are concerned about. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychoanalyst and founder of Boswell Group, CEOs on psychological aspects business. Send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. EDITED BY Edited By Deborah Stead