Can "Tight" Groups at Work Be Detrimental? a Theoretical View of Gossip from the Network Tie Strength and Density Perspective

By Luna, Alfred L.; Garcia, Decima Christine et al. | Global Journal of Business Research, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Can "Tight" Groups at Work Be Detrimental? a Theoretical View of Gossip from the Network Tie Strength and Density Perspective


Luna, Alfred L., Garcia, Decima Christine, Chou, Shih Yung, Jackson, Sara, Global Journal of Business Research


ABSTRACT

Given the importance of effective communication in organizational settings and the potential destructive impact of gossiping, greater research is needed to isolate those factors that enable negative gossip to occur. Although previous research has examined the effect of social network characteristics on gossip, the focus has not been on assessing the effect of social network tie strength and density on forms of gossip. In this article, we present a new theoretical framework for investigating how social network tie strength and network density can influence the forms of gossip, either negative or positive, in organizations. Our theoretical framework, therefore, provides important implications for theory and managerial practice.

JEL: M12

KEYWORDS: Gossip, social network ties strength, social network density

INTRODUCTION

Effective communication has been shown to be one of the managerial tools that enhance organizational outcomes such as employee participation, employee involvement, and job performance (Dirks & Ferrin, 2001). As communication plays a crucial role on organizational effectiveness, scholars have paid much attention to negative forms of communication in organizations.

Among various forms of negative communication in organizations, gossip has received much attention as it is generally seen as a socially destructive activity (Grosser, Lopez-Kidwell, & Labianca, 2010). In the organizational setting, gossip occurs when an organizational member engages in informal and evaluative talk with a few members about another member of that organization who is not present (Kurland & Pelled, 2000). Given gossip requires a group of individuals, the nature of relationships among these individuals could potentially determine not only whether gossip is engaged but also what form of gossip is encouraged. Although previous research (e.g., Grosser et al., 2010) has examined gossip in organizations from a social network perspective, how social network tie strength and density affect the forms of gossip has been largely neglected.

We strive to address this issue by using social network analysis (e.g., Cook & Whitmeyer, 2001; Freeman, 2004) as our theoretical base. In this article, gossip is defined as "informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present" (Kurland & Pelled, 2000, p. 429). Moreover, as the literature suggests, gossip can take the form of either being positive or negative (e.g., Michelson & Mouly, 2004); our focus is on how social network tie strength and network density determine the forms of gossip that occur in groups and organizations. The analysis of gossip in organizations from this perspective is important because network tie strength could be considered a group's ability to maintain the permeability of group boundaries (Nelson, 1989) and network tie density could affect the degree of direct communication within a network (Nelson & Vasconcellos, 2007).

LITERATURE REVIEW

Gossip in Organizations

As modern organizations are facing complex and turbulent environments, effective communication becomes particularly important. Given the important role that communication plays on organizational survival, increasing scholarly attention has been paid to the types of communication. Specifically, it has been suggested and widely known that two communication systems, the formal and the informal, can be found in virtually every organization (Driskill & Goldstein, 1986). Formal communications are formal channels of communication such as written policies, procedures, rules, formal authority and duties (Melcher & Ronald, 1967), whereas informal communications include social communications and grapevine activities (Crampton, Hodge, & Mishra, 1998).

Formal communication is important to an organization as it is a tool used to improve productivity and job satisfaction, while it reduces conflict by reinforcing trust and overall satisfaction (Chio, Hsieh, & Yang, 2004). …

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