Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Gossip Has It! an In-Depth Investigation of Malaysian Employees on Gossip Activities at Workplace

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Gossip Has It! an In-Depth Investigation of Malaysian Employees on Gossip Activities at Workplace

Article excerpt


This qualitative study aims at understanding the reasons for conception of gossiping phenomenon among private and public sector employees in Malaysia. Data for this research was gathered through in-depth interviews, which involved 15 informants that had been chosen through purposive sampling, aided by criterion-based selection and being conducted through theoretical sampling. In terms of gossip conception, data from informants have contributed to 8 themes that have been divided into two categories - pertain to content and pertain to functions. From these categories, the researchers conclude that gossip continues to be a firm feature of social and organisational landscapes, whereby without these social activities, interpersonal communication that harnesses the organisational communication would not be able to develop.

Key words: Gossip; Workplace; Gossip context and functions reliant; Gossip content reliant; People; Organisational communication; Organisational behaviour


A challenge facing nearly every organisation in a crisis is the circulation of gossips in which, unaddressed, can cause significant reputational harm and sometimes even more harm than the crisis. Gossips are particularly challenging because it is hard to figure out when a gossip started, how it is building momentum and when it might end. Once started, gossips can spread among employees, customers, suppliers, lenders, investors and regulators. Gossips can feed other gossips, and when they hit the media, they are formalised and seen as accurate rendering of reality. If the gossip is about malfeasance or inappropriate activity, it commands a high level of credibility. As noted in the best-selling book "A Civil Action", by Jonathan Harr, "It is the nature of disputes that a forceful accusation by an injured party often has more rhetorical power than a denial".

Shibutani (1966) noted that gossips arise from uncertainty, from the absence of context and concrete information by which those affected by a crisis may understand its significance. Shibutani (1966) elaborated that "When activity is interrupted for want of adequate information, frustrated people must piece together some kind of definition, and gossip is the collective transaction through which they try to fill this gap. Far from being pathological, gossip is part and parcel of the efforts of people to come to terms with the exigencies of life".

Research literature from pioneers of the field such as Allport and Postman (1947); Shibutani (1966); Rosnow and Fine (1976) till latter studies by DiFonzo and Bordia (2010) in the United States, have demonstrated in their various studies that gossips are not merely the result of faulty communication. In obscure situations, people often respond like pragmatic problem-solvers, amalgamating their intellectual resources - which include accurate data, guesses, beliefs, speculation in which constructing consensus from whatever sources that are available just to make sense of situation. It is believed that gossips are capable of transmitting news; build but also ruin reputations, set off riots and wars. Yet the advents of newspapers, the radio and most recently, the audiovisual explosion, have not smothered gossips. In spite of the media, the public continues to glean some of its information from word of mouth. The arrival on the scene of mass medi, instead of suppressing talk, has merely made it more specialised: each form of communication now has its own territory (Shibutani, 1966; Rosnow & Fine, 1976; DiFonzo and Bordia, 2010).

Where does the phenomenon known as "gossips" begin and where does it leave off? How does it differ from what is commonly called "word of mouth"? The concept in fact slips away when one believes one has pinned it down. Everyone thinks that they could recognise gossips when they come across them, but very few people have yet managed to provide a satisfactory definition of gossip. On the whole, whereas everyone feels quite certain that gossips exist, there is no consensus concerning the phenomenon's precise delimitations. …

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