The XX Factor

Can office gossip be a good thing?

DoubleX is starting a new partnership with The Washington Post Magazine . Each week our contributors will argue over a certain question, and we invite you to join in. This week: Is gossip at work a malicious distraction or a useful social tool?

Hanna Rosin : It depends on the size of the workplace. At a small office where I once worked, the gossip was like family gossip. It was all viciously intimate but assumed a great amount of unspoken connection and affection. At a bigger office where I once worked, gossip seemed more like a management tool to organize individuals. Everyone had a reputation, a two-sentence summary of their personality and work habits. That characterization stuck no matter what. It was often not true and never very interesting, but it could always be used against you.

Alison Buckholtz : Tomato, tomahto. Office gossip to one person is another person’s strategizing. When it comes to office politics, all intel is fair game, as long as the participants play fair. The real issue is knowing boundaries, because when coworkers cross the line, using personal information in underhanded ways, no one benefits.

KJ Dell’Antonia : Gossip about bosses? All’s fair. Gossip about colleagues? Mouth shut. Gossip about underlings-very uncool, although sometimes irresistible if you have a particularly colorful group. In the law firms where I worked, gossip about the partners was downright necessary-plenty were guys you didn’t want to let shut the office door behind you. And there’s always the senior associate who doesn’t give credit where it’s due. Those are things you need to know. But when it comes to colleagues, dishing dirt invites others to do the same, and it’s just never struck me as politic. In my experience, anyone willing to gossip with you will also gossip about you. Of course, that’s not to say I won’t listen …