Does office gossip improve performance?

November 11, 2019

We love to gossip. Gossip accounted for 65 per cent of what was talked about among people in an informal conversation. We gossip in the office too, and probably it's perceived as not a productive time spent until you read this article.

According to Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, gossip is the primary mean of maintaining bonding in the group. To understand this, we need to pay attention to the course of evolution.

Evolution of homo sapience

Chimpanzees spend 20% of their awake-time for groom each other. Through stroking each other's back and picking up bugs, they engaged in developing social intelligence -- finding out alliances and mating partners and checking free-riders. Grooming was a valid tactic when the group was as small as 50.

When Homo Sapience ventured out into an open savannah, they formed a larger group of 150 in a band. (There is an ecological demand to this consequence: a larger group has merit for organized hunting, easier to protect themselves in an open field) Psychical grooming would take up too much time. They need more effective mean for boning. That's how language is created to 'virtually' groom each other.

That critical shift happened 250.000 years ago, and our ancestor began to migrate every corner of continents...

Today, we're still relying on language as our primary mean for communication. However, our social circumstance has dramatically changed. Individuals live in a city with other hundreds of thousands of habitants, working at an international corporation with tens of thousand workforces spread globally, while maintaining hundreds of social contacts using Facebook or Linkedin.

These are some of the questions we posed during the We-breakfast. Together with 'People Professionals' namely, coach, scrum master, HR manager, and CFO. They are all passionate about making people better in their organization.

We-breakfast for people professionals at A'DAM Tower

One principle we discussed is affect labelling, a phenomenon in the brain when you try to label/verbalize fuzzy emotions. We admitted that it's quite difficult to describe feelings, (it becomes easier when using a mother language).

Verbalizing emotion is an excellent practice for not only enriching our experience but also taking greater control over negative experiences. When you're dwelling in a negative feeling, your limbic brain is engaged. By labelling the fuzzy emotion with the right word, the brain instantly shifts the attention to the cortex and calm down the amygdala.

Caroline Webb, a senior advisor at McKinsey offered useful tips based on affect labelling:

At the age of social media and the global village, it's worthwhile to remind ourselves of the time when our ancestors began to roll their tongue and pronounced the first word of the language.  

One of exercises during We-breakfast

Next We-breakfast meeting will focus on 'Autonomy', a troublesome concept of choices and free-will. RSVP here.

Download

Author

Ohyoon Kwon
Ohyoon Kwon is the Founder of WeQ. His background in design thinking has led him to explore the intersection between gamification and building high-performance teams. Ohyoon is passionate about creating amazing user experiences and bringing teams closer together.

Related Articles