Did you hear what happened at yesterday's meeting? Can you believe it?
If you find those sort of quietly whispered questions about your co-workers irresistible, you're hardly alone. But why are we drawn to gossip?
A study out of the Netherlands suggests it's because the rumors, innuendo, and hearsay are ultimately all about us — where we rate in the unofficial local hierarchy, and how we might improve our standing.
"Gossip recipients tend to use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self," writes a research team led by Elena Martinescu of the University of Groningen. "Individuals need evaluative information about others to evaluate themselves."
"Contrary to lay perceptions," the researchers assert, "most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver."
The researchers write, "Negative gossip makes people concerned that their reputations may be at risk, as they may personally become targets of negative gossip in the future, which generates fear."
Fear is hardly a pleasant sensation, of course, but it can be a motivating one.
Beyond providing "emotional catharsis and social control," confidentially treaded information about the competence, or lack thereof, of a co-worker can be "an essential resource for self-evaluation."