When Is Water-Cooler Chit Chat Gossip?


While we all have vastly different workplace experiences, I hope and pray you have not seen the devastating effects of gossip that I have witnessed.  The crushing power of gossip has the ability to destroy people and entities.  Like so many sins, this one has seductive and sneaky aspects to it.  Often we find ourselves in the middle of gossip without realizing that we ever waded into the deep end.  This is why it is important for us to challenge ourselves to think do I engage in it, promote it, have I ever thought about it, etc.

Caroline Cross, a communications fellows at the Institute of Faith, Work & Economics, helps us frame our thinking about the “water-cooler” in the article below.

Water-Coolers take many forms these days...

Water-Coolers take many forms these days…

When Is Water-Cooler Chit Chat Gossip?

(by Caroline Cross)

An article in The Wall Street Journal explored the dilemma of gossip in the workplace. Entitled They’re Gossiping About You: Strategies to Silence the Office Rumor Mill; the Talk Can Even Work in Your Favor, the article chronicles just that. Complete with winsome pictures and flow charts, Sue Shellenbarger’s column gives the following advice to frustrated nine-to-fivers:

Not all gossip is bad. Some workplace talk can help ease stress or frustration over perceived injustices, research shows. It can pressure selfish or low-performing co-workers to shape up. Knowing and sharing gossip are ways for employees who lack power to gain informal influence among their peers.

Is buying into the office buzz really as benign as the article would have readers think?

The Pervasive Nature of Gossip

Gossip goes beyond the office and can be disguised in a church setting as “sharing information in love.” Erik Raymund at The Gospel Coalition defines gossip as:

…speaking about someone in a way that defames, dishonors or otherwise hurts their character. Sometimes it is subtle, like grumbling about someone, and other times it is loud, like ranting about someone. Further, sometimes the content of what is said is true, other times it is not. Either way, the person hearing does not need to know the information, they don’t benefit from it. And, most times it is not actionable; they are not going to go and help the person, instead they are just going to tuck away the information for selfish use.

Ultimately, Raymund says that the issue isn’t so much figuring out what gossip is and isn’t; it is recognizing gossip’s destructive impact.

The Problem with Gossip

Paul minces no words in his letter to the Ephesians—Christians must turn from gossip:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:29-32).

In opposition to the argument that gossip is merely a tool for self-advancement, Paul contends for all speech to be used to love others and glorify God. The gospel fuels this relational paradigm shift from self to others. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, our conversations become what Paul describes in Colossians as “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). We also become better able to discern what is helpful for building others up, and what is merely sharing insider information that could end up hurting others.


Thanks to Annie Spratt for her picture on Unsplash


Receive blog entries from The Collaborative, delivered right to your inbox! 

Do More

Faith & Work Devotional

Sign up to receive a hard copy of the 30-day Faith & Work Devotional: Prompts for Missional Living in Vocation

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Faith and Work Mockup

Or Sign Up for a Free 5 Day e-Devotional