It’s fairly normal for office goers to indulge in usual office chatter- who is getting promoted, who got disciplined. We all like to hear about personal matters, romantic or otherwise.

And there’s no denying indulging in gossip has its own fallout- no small talk has led to anything good. However, from a managerial point of view, it is important to recognize that gossip plays an important role in social structure of an organization.

Think of a company as a neighborhood.
Neighbors share a fair amount of social interaction, which builds a level of trust that lets them settle debts over time rather than in the moment. You can’t borrow eggs from the grocery store because the people who work there are strangers and not part of your neighborhood. But you can go to a neighbor’s house and borrow eggs if you are in the middle of a recipe and run out. You just better bring over a slice of cake later.

Gossip helps to solidify these same neighborly relations among coworkers. It generates a set of shared stories that become part of the collective experience base of the people who work for a company—in other words, it’s a key ingredient in a healthy work culture. By gossiping together, people who see each other in their organization capacity start building experiences together that solidify relationships and build a stronger team.

Second, gossip helps re-inforce a sense of shared values in the company. When you tell stories about people who you think have done particularly good or particularly bad things, you’re making a statement about what you think is important for a someone in your organization to do or not do. Even if there’s no explicit discussion about the company’s values, gossip spreads messages about its heroes and villains.

So there we have it, the usual office chatter is not as bad as you think it would. While you are side-stepping office gossip, you could be mission out on an important part of the company culture. Just remember to not indulge in gossip that is in a direction that makes you uncomfortable. A general rule that can be drawn from the neighborhood analogy- as long as you can justify your actions while being called a “good neighbor” it’s all good. Don’t indulge in malicious gossip that might make you a “bad neighbor”.