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How Gossip Hurts All of Us

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Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Have You Been a Victim/Source of Gossip?

A look at the specifics of how gossip undermines our work, health, relationships and our patients.

How Gossip Hurts All of Us

Despite its evolutionary origins as a method of establishing social networks, gossip is among the negative behaviors we frown upon as a culture. Defined by Webster's as a "rumor or report of an intimate nature", gossip oftentimes starts innocently enough as idle chitchat about friends, family members, and coworkers. While it can be positive in nature (such as discussing a potential promotion for example), gossip can quickly veer into negative territory, spreading unfounded rumors and speculation which can seriously damage a person's reputation.

This is especially the case in our age of social media, where a negative comment or picture, which may or may not be true, can go viral in the blink of an eye. It can also escalate to full-on bullying, social ostracizing, or physical violence, leading to a number of physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and in extreme circumstances suicide.

It is this potential for spreading individual and collective toxicity that has led to the historical aversion to gossip, codified in many world religions and ethical systems:

  • "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." Proverbs 11:13
  • "What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away." Chinese proverb
  • "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." Aesop

This is also true in our professional lives. In a field such as nursing, which has consistently earned public trust, it is all the more important to be aware of the corrosive effect that gossip can have on our interactions with patients and colleagues. In an article1 for NurseChoice.com, Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom outlines three dangers of nurse station gossip.

What are the Dangers of Nurse Station Gossip?

1 - It Damages Relationships

Hagstrom quotes Connie Barden, chief clinical officer of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses:

"It's important to create an environment that fosters effective and skillful communication and collaboration as outlined in the AACN Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments…There are few places where the stakes are as high as in a hospital. Demeaning, belittling, and disrespectful gossip damages relationships, contributes to errors, and adversely impacts nurses, coworkers, and patients."

2 - Leads to a Lack of Trust and Respect

"When there is negative gossip, it's difficult for trust and respect to flourish. Both the person doing the gossiping and the person listening to the conversation can be perceived as untrustworthy for talking about someone who is not present…As in other aspects of life, it's best to focus on taking the 'high road' with our conversations."

3 - Possible HIPAA Violations

An article2 in Becker'sHealth IT and CIO Review lists some of the more common reasons for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation citations, with Employees Disclosing Patient Information at the top of the list. "In their 2016 list of the most common HIPAA violations, they explain that employees' gossiping about patients to friends or co-workers is a violation that can lead to significant fines."
Such negative effects have been empirically demonstrated.

A multi-nation study3 published in the September 2014 journal Research Burnout found a positive relation between burnout and negative gossip in a hospital setting, as well as a positive relation between negative gossip and suboptimal care. However, as Anthony Montgomery, a co-author of the study, reports, "Nurses often use gossip to express some of the deepest emotions about patients and fellow workers and gossip has been considered as a form of emotional support and a way to relieve stress."

While we should never seek to repress or stifle the need to voice frustrations in our relationships, taking a more positive slant in our conversations can go a long way to avoid poisoning the well either at home or at work.


  1. 3 Dangers of Nurses Station Gossip - and How to Avoid It
  2. 10 Common HIPAA Violations and Preventative Measures to Keep Your Practice in Compliance
  3. Talking Behind Their Backs: Negative Gossip and Burnout in Hospitals

Georgianna Donadio, MSc, DC, PhD, is the Director of the National Institute of Whole Health, and a health care visionary who pioneered the integration of Whole Health and Whole Person Healthcare within medical and holistic health organizations. Georgianna is one of only six Florence Nightingale Scholars in the U.S., an MNA award-winning Nurse Advocate and widely published Integrative Health expert and healthcare provider. Named “Best Integrative Healthcare Practitioner” in Boston, for 20 years she hosted the nationally syndicated, regionally Emmy nominated women’s TV programming, Woman-to-Woman®. She is currently the host of iHeart radio’s Living above the Drama which is heard globally, and an Amazon #1 Bestselling award winning author. She has been a regular contributor/writer for the Huffington Post, Dr Oz’s Share Care, Daily Strength and other national blogs.

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5 Comment(s)


Specializes in ED. Has 15 years experience.

Gossip is the most deadly microbe,

it has neither legs, nor wings;

It's composed entirely of tales,

and most of them have stings.

When you hear something you like about someone you don't.

I don't believe for one second that gossip was or is in any way useful to "maintain social cohesion". It's a way to manipulate a situation--where you know more (also called "toting news") and therefore makes you seem important and "in the know", where you attempt to defeat a "threat" whether it's perceived or otherwise, or it's simply mean spirit.

A friend has a parent who does this---to her and her siblings. She's a jealous and vindictive woman who sees everyone in her orbit, particularly her younger and more vibrant daughters, as threats.

I've been in departments where I always seem to be "the last one to know"--because I go to work and do my job--I don't listen to, begin, or perpetuate gossip. I have been, however, the target of "news toters" who don't even stop to introduce themselves before they want to know your life history. Be sure never to ask theirs because that will cause a s#itstorm.

As I mentioned in another thread--the one where the RN was terminated for "redirecting" a co-worker after that co-worker had made life miserable for her--there are many in our society that fit the bill of the "mean spirited" or "malcontent" or "sociopath" or just plain old jealous of all that is good because their inner life sucks.

It's easy....very, very easy....to defuse these types. Ignore them. When they attempt to draw you in to anything besides work related business---walk away.

We, female Nurses, are trained from an early age to strive always to "be nice and have people like us". It's important no to be labeled "bitc#y" or "aggressive". Nobody likes "angry woman". So we go along to get along. We need others to like us---so we don't buck the trend. If it's the popular thing to gossip about a certain someone---we participate.

A nice thing about getting older? I don't give a rat's rump about what anybody thinks of me. Ever. Nobody else pays my bills, cleans my house, does my job, or is married to my husband. The minute you pay my mortgage, you get to tell me that I need to worry about your opinion of me.

I feel sorry for the younger generation these days--social media has all but ruined life for pretty much everyone--with the anonymity that a mystery screen name provides so that venomous attacks can ensue without repercussion. Then it translates into real life encounters, where some of these youngsters can't separate how they behave in an anonymous forum and what is expected in a professional workplace.

That said. Gossip is pointless and makes those who participate in it feel an importance that is not real. I laugh at them and know that no matter what---when I say something in my workplace or to my personal friends, they know what I say is the truth and not some speculation based on my mean spirited attempt to bring someone down who threatens my irrational belief that I am all powerful and all knowing.

The best advice I can give younger or new nurses who encounter this?

Behave in a way that you would never be embarrassed of if it came out in open court.

Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Hello TitaniumPlates,

Thanks for your wonderful response -very well said. Ignoring or walking away is hard but extremely effective. My grandmother used to say the best way to give someone the message that you don't value their behavior is to ignore them
and when it comes to gossip, it is certainly true!
Thank you for sharing your insights and experience ~
Kind regards,


What an amazing article on such an important topic. Really loved TP's response, too. Thank you for writing it, Dr. Donadio.

subee, MSN, CRNA

Specializes in CRNA, Finally retired. Has 48 years experience.

In Judaism gossip is considered a sin. Even if one isn't religious, the wisdom of this standard of behavior is easy to appreciate. Just imagine how a hospital's culture and level of drama could change if everyone were discrete...but then, so many people are addicted to drama:(

Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Thank you DCubed and subee for sharing your insights! Yes, imagine how lovely life would be if all of us agreed to not talk about one another, unless we had something positive to say!

Many thanks
and kind regards,