An Integrative Definition and Framework to Study Gossip


The omnipresence of workplace gossip makes understanding gossip processes imperative to understand social life in organizations. Although gossip research has recently increased across the social sciences, gossip is conceptualized in disparate ways in the scientific literature. This conceptual confusion impedes theoretical integration and providing practical advice. To resolve this, we systematically reviewed 6114 scientific articles on gossip and identified 324 articles that define gossip. From these definitions, we extracted two essential characteristics of gossip on which there seems to be agreement within the literature, namely, (1) that gossip is communication between humans involving a sender, a receiver, and a target, and (2) that the target is absent or unaware of the communicated content. These two characteristics formed the basis of a broad, integrative definition of gossip: a sender communicating to a receiver about a target who is absent or unaware of the content. Furthermore, some definitions include characteristics on which there is less agreement: gossip valence (from negative to neutral to positive) and formality (from informal to intermediate to formal). We incorporate these characteristics in a dimensional scaling framework that can guide future research. Our broad, integrative definition of gossip and the dimensional scaling framework provide the building blocks for a systematic, integrated knowledge base on the role of gossip in human social life in general as well as in organizations. This can foster future theory development and hypothesis testing, ultimately helping organizations to manage gossip.

Group & Organization Management