An Integrative Definition and Framework to Study Gossip


The omnipresence of workplace gossip makes understanding gossip processes imperative to grasp social life in organizations. Although gossip research has recently experienced an upsurge across the social sciences, findings regarding the consequences of gossip are conflicting. A potential reason is that gossip is conceptualized in myriad different manners in the scientific literature, causing conceptual confusion and rendering theoretical integration impossible. In order to resolve this, we systematically reviewed 6114 scientific articles on gossip and identified 324 papers that define gossip. From the definitions we extracted two essential characteristics of gossip on which there seems to be good agreement within the literature, namely (1) that gossip is communication between humans involving a sender, receiver, and target, and (2) that the target is absent or unaware of the communicated content. These 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, our review revealed that some definitions discuss characteristics on which there is less agreement: gossip valence (from negative to neutral to positive) and formality (from informal to intermediate to formal). We propose incorporating these characteristics in a multidimensional scaling framework that can guide future research. Our broad, integrative definition of gossip and the multidimensional scaling framework provide the building blocks for a systematic, integrated knowledge base on the role of gossip in human social life, which can foster future theory development and hypothesis testing, and thereby ultimately help organizations to manage gossip.