September 9, 2010

The benefits of positive gossip

Research by Jennifer Cole and Hannah Scrivener of Staffordshire University shows positive effects of positive gossiping. 160 participants in one study completed questionnaires participants completed questionnaires relating to their tendency to gossip and measures of their self-esteem, social support and satisfaction with life. In this study, no correlation was found between gossiping and satisfaction and self esteem. But there was an association between gossiping and the social support they experienced.

In a follow up study 140 were asked to talk either positively or negatively about a fictional person. Participants who talked positively felt more self esteem than participants who talked negatively. Jennifer Cole says: "Gossiping is usually seen as a bad thing. Our findings suggest some forms of gossiping- particularly of the type where people praise others- could be linked with some desirable outcomes for the gossiper despite the fact that gossipers are not generally approved of.".

This research reminds me of a solution-focused approach which is sometimes called positive paranoia. This is how I remember it. Ben Furman, an experienced solution-focused consultant from Finland, led a team-building process. He did an exercise he calls ´positive paranoia´ with the team.It goes like this. Within a given period -let´s say the next week- each member of a team has to do something beneficial for another member or for the team as a whole, but without saying what it is going to be and not even announcing when they´ve done it or what they have done. Conversely, everyone tries to spot when the beneficial actions are taken. All is revealed at the end of the week, when they meet again with the organizer, facilitator or team leader. Meanwhile, it creates an atmosphere of people spotting coleagues doing useful turns for each other. When people are hunting for what they want -especially in a charged atmosphere of expectnant uncertainty - they stand every chance of tracking it down. (source: Jackson and McKergow, 2001).

Let's turn this into a nice little experiment. Think of a person who you admire and/or appreciate for some reason and write an email to another person in which you say what you like about what this person does. (The person who is praised does not receive the praise himself or herself).

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