It happens in every work setting. Information that’s not always truthful or accurate is passed along from person to person, encouraging speculation and additional renditions of the “facts.” But what’s the essential nature of those conversations and why do they occur? Those and many other questions are answered by author Nicholas DiFonzo, Ph.D. in his book, The Watercooler Effect, a compelling exploration of rumors and gossip, and why people are motivated to listen to, believe, and participate in disseminating them.
One of the most compelling aspects of the book is the distinction that’s made between rumors and gossip and why each are created. Interestingly, rumors can actually have value, providing explanations in times of fear or uncertainty. In addition, they can serve as a useful tool for the transmission of information that can’t be traced back to a specific source. Conversely, gossip essentially, if any, redeeming factors and is more apt to be damaging in the final analysis.
DiFonzo explains why some information is created and travels from person to person without verification or regard to the source. A prime example is viral e-mails that warn of everything from physical danger and illnesses to impending doom from any number of directions. The recipient may be apt to accept the content as fact without verifying the source or any of the assertions that have been made, sending it along to the people in his or her address book and continuing the chain. The underlying goal is to be helpful by providing details that can keep one safe, healthy, or reduce risk and uncertainty.
If you have an interest in informal communication and the dynamics and characteristics of information that’s passed from person to person, I recommend this book. It’s entertaining and provocative and could be the next topic of conversation around the watercooler at your office!