This study focuses on the usage of gossip at the organizational level. Researchers state that their study demonstrates that gossip, either for individual purposes or for group-serving purposes, functions as a support to the group’s norms. They thought it worthy to do this research because few systematic studies of gossip have been conducted at the organizational levels and gossip itself has several distinct meanings.
Researchers clearly hypothesize that for the self-serving purpose, gossip (either negative or positive talks) will occur regardless of “group benefits and costs” and will exist irrespective of “time and context” (Wilson & M. Kniffin, 2005, p.283). Moreover, this kind of gossip will attract other members of teams or organizations. As for group-serving purposes, say the researchers, gossip will help to influence “group-beneficial rules”: negative gossip will be against the rules while affirmation of behavior will support them.
In this respect, gossip will change in accordance with the alternative of conflicts in the teams or organizations. Here, they define “gossip” as the interpersonal talks in an organization that is characterized by informality and appraisal, and the model of gossip they test is “pluralist, multilevel and evolutionary”.
Therefore, they recognize gossip as “group-serving, self-serving” and context-dependent. With this recognition, researchers use the theoretical framework of multilevel selection theory put forward by Sober and Wilson because this theory addresses that “interests can overlap across levels”. This article also reviews several previous studies on the topic from different perspectives, including anthropology and ethnography.
In the parts of the Introduction and literature review, the authors have covered 2 communication concepts when building their argument. First is the perception. Perception refers to worldview and value that influence people how to interpret information and messages (cited from ppt Class 3 Perception and Attribution p. 5 created by Daniel Stofleth).
In the article, the authors define gossip as interpersonal talk in an organization that is characterized by informality and appraisal. The next one is that gossip is a continuous process as well as a dynamic process which are two of the characteristics of IPC (Interpersonal Communication).
Continuous process means that messages are constantly exchanged in different channels or mediums. Dynamic process refers that message meanings change over time and space (cited from ppt Class 2 IPC Competence, p. 14 created by Daniel Stoflet).
When setting the statement, the authors recognized that gossip can change alongside the alternative of time and space and that the model of gossip is multilevel. And that is why the authors chose the evolutionary framework of multilevel selection theory which addresses that benefits can overlap within all organizational levels.
This study uses methods that integrate the quantitative sampling and qualitative observations of a university rowing team in the period of more than 18-month. They got permission because one of the authors of this article is on the team. There were approximately 50 members in the rowing team, such as coach and administrative members. But authors did not state clearly how many levels of participants in the sample.
Through observation of daily talks of the rowing teams in different organizational levels, including collecting the words they had used and the purposes of their talks, the authors discovered several findings. In the qualitative observations, researchers asked both strangers and teammates questions about the physical attractiveness of the “free riders”, the slacker, and obtained differential answers.
During the observations, the concept of stereotype has been covered. Stereotype occurs when people presume that a certain group of people has certain qualities based on cultural background or social cycles (cited from ppt Class 3 Perception and Attribution p. 22, created by Daniel Stofleth). In the team, members had bad impressions of the slacker, and thus his potential reproductive fitness among familiars reduced. This investigation actually measures the subjective opinions of teammates and how these opinions influence the team.
In the quantitative observations, conversations were recorded and analyzed to quantify the uses of language in the rowing team. Then records will be classified into five groups including “General Crew”, “Non-Crew Discussion”, “Personal”, “Positive Personal Talk” and “Negative Personal Talk”. The frequency of in both arrays of observations, the investigators do not ask certain questions but just record and analyze the daily talk of the team.
Based on two sorts of observations, the authors found out that negative personal talk occurred more frequently in the first semester than in the last two semesters, and enormous parts of negative talks which occurred in the investigation concentrated mainly on the slacker, talking about whether he was absent or present.
Second, positive personal talk, especially in the first semester, concentrated mainly on a group of hardest teammates, rather than one single person. But whatever personal talks are about in this study, those personal talks served for the supporting group-beneficial rules.
In addition, violations against group-beneficial norms will be mocked but the behavior that contributes to the achievement or success will be admired. Moreover, the function of gossip will definitely be changed as the conflicts either appear or disappear in the team.
All these results meet the hypotheses for group-serving purposes. Researchers find out that almost all talks recorded in the tests serve for the group’s benefit or defend. Therefore, the results presented in this part correspond to the hypotheses for group-serving purposes. As for the self-serving purpose, authors seems not to prove that gossip gains over teammate, though they testify that gossip occurs everywhere and all the time.
It is very easy for readers to find the results of the study because the authors write it in a separate part of “Result” presenting their findings in tables and summarizing the results into three points.
In this part, when summarizing, the researcher state 2 key points. First, gossip within groups can both negatively and positively enforce the norms of groups or organizations. Second, their observation experiments are needed though their study contains only one case. Third, gossip serves for the sharing common fates of groups and helps to maintain the membership.
During the study, researchers encountered many limitations and difficulties. For example, their investigation does not consider elements outside of the rowing team, such as other competitive rowing teams. Apart from that, I find other limitations that were not mentioned by the researchers.
For instance, in the quantitative observations, conversations were recorded only for newcomers in the man rowing teams because it included one of the researchers’ members. Researchers did not exclude the influences on the frequency of conversation brought by gender because as we all know generally females prefer to gossip. Personally, I think the greatest strength of this study is that it shows the process of each type of observation experiment clearly and logically.
It especially explains its samples in a separate part: why they chose the rowing team as a sample and how many people were included in the investigation. But authors did not state clearly how their test results meet the hypotheses and how the theoretical framework functions in the study. This is, I think is the biggest weakness.
Gossip is a process of interpersonal communication which means use symbols to send messages among people. In gossip, people express their opinions with sounds, words, tones, facial expressions, and body language to others in groups. Hence, almost all concepts of communication are suitable for studying gossip.
Several specific concepts related to this article. Some have been mentioned in the previous parts of this paper, such as perception, stereotype, and the characteristics of IPC. Others like goals factor and communicative needs. Gossip, either positive or negative, serves for the norms and benefits of the groups or organizations, and thus, supporting the group affirmation and achievement is the goal a communicative need of gossip.
The results of this study are convincing for me. First, the study methodology and the investigation methods are scientific and reliable. Second, the units and catalogs classified are reasonable: they include all situations and all sorts of talks in the daily routines of the rowing teams.
If I were the researcher, I would try to remove irrelevant variables in the study, such as gender. I would do the same experiments in both sexes’ teammates in the rowing team; that is I would look at the frequency and language uses in females, males, and mix gender groups.
Based on this study, I would like to conduct a follow-up study on how cultural background influences gossip at the organizational level. I will assess the effects brought by culture.