How to Gossip Like a Leader

Jan 24, 2022

Everyone gossips.

Slander and backstabbing are destructive, but there’s a healthy side to gossip.

When you say, “Your reputation precedes you,” you acknowledge the power of gossip. Gossip is one reason businesses grow or fail.

Researchers define gossip as talking about someone who isn’t present. It might be positive, negative, or neutral.

Ask Your Team

The truth about gossip:

Megan Robbins and Alexander Karan observe that…

  1. Extroverts gossip more than introverts.

  2. Women in engage in more neutral gossip than men.

  3. Younger people lean toward negative gossip more than older people.

  4. Most gossip tends to be neutral – social information.

  5. Gossip indicates closeness. We gossip with people we like.

  6. We like to gossip because possessing secrets is powerful.

  7. Generous, moral people are most likely to pass along rumors. (It’s often driven by concern for others.)

The value of gossip:

Dunbar’s research suggests that gossip strengthens social bonds. About 5% of gossip deals with freeloaders.

We police freeloaders – those who take benefit without paying – when someone says, “You better watch out for Billy Bob, he’ll take advantage of you.”

Feinberg, Willer, and Schulz suggest that we use gossip to protect people we care about by exposing self-serving people.

The restaurant industry, particularly small independent restaurants, has long fought to attract and retain workers, Clinton Wolf, senior vice president for health and insurance services at the National Restaurant Association, said.

“Over the last few months I’ve certainly seen more small restaurants coming in asking about what they can do with their health benefits,” Wolf said.

Lower-wage workers, Black Americans, Asian-Americans, and people in industries such as restaurants are “much more likely to think about resigning than others,” Melissa Swift, leader of professional services firm Mercer’s transformation practice for the U.S. and Canada, said. “When we looked at why people would stay or go, No. 1 is still pay and benefits.”

Hourly wages are increasing, Tracy Watts, senior partner and national leader for U.S. health policy at Mercer, said. For low-wage workers, “All of a sudden you have a lot of job choices at the same hourly wage,” she said. Adding health benefits makes it an easier decision for workers when deciding on job offers.

More Than Money

Nebraska Furniture Mart, which has four locations in the Midwest and Texas, spent $11 million in pay hikes in addition to annual merit increases, but that’s not enough to keep workers on.

“They want better benefits, they want work-life balance, they want to be developed in their career,” Megan Berry Barlow, chief human resources officer, said.

The Omaha-based company, which spent nearly $34 million in 2021 to cover about 5,500 members on its health plans, will be offering a high-deductible health plan to employees for free in 2022, and it’s debating offering it to families at no cost as well. It will also offer eligible employees health benefits in 60 days rather than 90 starting this year.

Beyond wages, health insurance is a signal that employers will invest in their workforce, Jack Hooper, co-founder and CEO of Take Command in Dallas, said. Take Command administers health reimbursement accounts, which allow employers to fund their own individual health plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act.

“Benefits makes it feel like you care as an employer, and that’s what creates that sticky retention that they want,” he said.

Reverse gossip:

My friend, Bob Burg coined the phrase, “Reverse gossip.” You might practice reverse gossip at the beginning of your next meeting.

Ask your team to say something good about team members who aren’t in the room.

Five gossip guidelines:

  1. Never reveal a secret you have promised to keep.

  2. Avoid negative speculations about people’s motives.

  3. Don’t put someone down to elevate your status, ever.

  4. Only pass along reliable information. Stick with your personal experience.

  5. Say good stuff about people who aren’t in the room, a lot!

It’s possible to gossip your way to success.

How might leaders leverage the power of reverse gossip?

By Dan Rockwell