If you spread rumours in a Facebook group which have a sensitive impact on your supervisor or another colleague, it can be as unpleasant as if you were gossiping on the office corridor. Moreover, the situation does not get better when someone makes a screenshot of a private chat conversation and shares it with others. We interviewed Dr. Zsuzsanna Szveteleszky, social psychologist.
Heti Válasz published an interview with you that said, “ Being left out of gossiping is a pity, but it’s worth keeping it under control.” What do we mean by gossip? Gossip does not necessarily have the same meaning for everyone.
A rumor is a non-public information about a notable person, its main feature is the spread. If it does not spread, it’s just a secret. Social science talks about rumors if the information has negative content and spreads behind the back of the person to whom it is related.
In the interview you said: “billions of people are using more channels around the world than ten years ago, but I’m quite sure that pheromone, pupil expansion and metacommunication cannot be replaced by gadgets”. This may be a silly question, but cannot this change in the future? Since practically nowadays, some people, especially young people, are living in symbiosis with their mobile phone?
Trends in certain technological innovations are really affecting gossip. With a push of a button, many people can send the same message, email or SMS. But it is true that we have learned to use these tools and it is not typical to spread personal gossip this way. Two-three-person online communication, or even small chatrooms are suitable for this. Trust is, however, a very important component of this process, and gossipers should consider the risk of a piece of information reaching someone, who should not have been entrusted with it.
The more important question is the personal nature of gossip. Somebody with a smartphone in hand, would not wait with the obtained information about the boss or a tender until he meets a colleague in the afternoon, but he is spreading it straight away. And yes, he often regrets it. Due to the technological developments, the waiting and retention capacity is deteriorating, and it affects the acceleration of rumor spread.
With respect to the future, we cannot make statements. Mankind has taught the younger generation to communicate and cooperate by similar means for thousands of years. By today, this has changed, and we do not know what native digital parents teach their children about the rules of social processes.
My next question comes from the previous one: What do you think of emoticons?
The emoticon is suitable for expressing a number of feelings or emotions and because they are written signs it is, for example, easier to lie with them than in a real conversation.
Sitting at a table, looking in the eyes of others, the majority cannot control facial expressions, eyebrows, and will more likely betray their own feelings and reaction with a sudden gesture. For thousands of years, man has been programmed to codify and interpret emotions from the partner’s voice, mimicry, body language – emoticons cannot do this. They are, however, capable of expanding the expression of emotions. Think of the dozens of lines with smileys that make up for each other – that is the exaggeration that is difficult to express with a voice or a smile. The majority could only force it.
You also said that change should be communicated within the organization, by which tensions can be avoided, since the events are explained. You also added, that silence causes vacuum, which results is anxiety. Within a larger organization where many people work and where changes happen daily, how can this problem be solved?
You need to know the structure of the organization’s informal communication – and this is not just workplace rumor. Good practices, unwritten rules, old habits are also part of this system, with which the manager needs to be familiar. Otherwise he cannot control the informal communication. However, if he is aware of the role of midlevel managers in the transfer of information and he knows where the communication is lost and where the communication is too much, he can effectively transmit messages to the subordinates.
We need to know where the formal system stopped functioning and what are the risks in the informal structure that jeopardizes the company’s goals. Both have a useful aspect, but in each company, it is unique whom the colleagues get in touch with in the buffet whose email is worth reading from the incoming three hundred. If employees do not get the right tools to collaborate, they will have their own channels converted. There may also be such content that the supervisor does not necessarily like.
My other idea is somewhat idealistic in this regard. Specifically, I refer to the Hungarian work culture, and that our bosses and supervisors would give an explanation to all the decisions that affect us. How do you see this?
It is worth considering the length and scope of the explanation. Furthermore, who is our target? Reception can only be hoped from those who understand the message. No one has the time to listen to long and administrative style phrases. If they get something like this, then they will start creating their own versions. It is worth noting that internal communication is as important as external communication in today’s labour market situation.
In our conversation, you also pointed out that on social media surfaces, current and ex-employees can gossip about what’s going on inside a company, sharing sensitive information and stories. At the same time, earlier you stated that using various gadgets cannot trigger serious emotions. So how do you see the importance of a Facebook group’s story, especially if it’s real and not just a rumour?
It depends on how mature, how liable the group members are, how aware are they of the fact that such a story can permanently harm the person they are gossiping about. Not only can stories be distributed, but also be listened to online. And it also depends on the affected individual’s approach to Facebook or Twitter, whether he cares or does not pay attention to such stories.
The gossiper can justify it, if it needs justification at all, with saying “Come on, I wrote this into a Facebook group, you do not have to take it seriously!”
The real issue is, what the story is about. If data and facts are included, or somebody reacts to it and starts an avalanche of comments then such a comment is no longer easy to handle.
There is a difference if rumour happens through a private chat, because it is not an information for the community, regardless of whether it is revealed or not. There is a significant difference between those two cases. Can such revealing person get into a difficult situation?
Today, somebody may record a conversation with a phone although the other person did not agree to the recording. It’s not the channel that counts, it’s the human side of it. The person who is relevant, who we trust and assume they will not rumour anything about us. For this reason, confidence is more fragile and more expensive today than a few years ago.
You also spoke about internal communication in relation to politics. You said, in many cases, it is a cotton cloth that clogs the tool of action and also a surface where conflict can be generated. You stated this before the elections. Since then, the political conditions have intensified on the one side, and they have fallen into almost unprecedented depths on the other side. How does that change the internal communication?
Certainly, political communication is also affected by technological change. However, in this area, the person and the trust mentioned before are of particular importance, which leads to the two working together.
In addition, political communication is always highly important, so it must be based on quite different rules, similarly to everyday or corporate internal communication.
Finally, what would you suggest, if someone absolutely wanted to gossip? How can that be done by risking the least?
People do not necessarily want to gossip – they just want to know more about those people who are important to them. In any case, it reduces the risk if people do not state anything negative about anybody, and only share positive or neutral stories either in writing and/or online. So, if our supervisor is desperate that we describe a colleague, who is unfair and aggressive, it is better to write – “it’s not always easy to work with him.”
Though it may not be remembered what was written about someone six years ago, the internet does not forget.