Have you heard the latest?

Ah, sweet gossip, that heady, seductive siren. She's a giver of power and a kicker of nether regions. Part of human nature, she is, above all, irresistible....

Ah, sweet gossip, that heady, seductive siren. She’s a giver of power and a kicker of nether regions. Part of human nature, she is, above all, irresistible.

Consider the popularity of a Web site dedicated to dishing the dirt on advertising schmoes. This site, and I’m sure you know which one I mean, allows the anonymous posting of tasty tidbits – a veritable plethora of unconfirmed, unattributed blather.

Consider, too, the frequency with which ‘unnamed sources’ are used to slam big cheeses at big agencies. Even professional hacks, the nation’s keepers of truth, aren’t immune to the lure of gossip when they have no on-the-record sources.

But who’s to judge? None of us is strong enough to Just Say No.

Our love of gossip boils down to one core truth: Gossip is power.

Think about the power in the question, ‘Have you heard the latest?’ Say those words out loud and watch what happens. People stop writing, stop surfing, stop gossiping. They look at you intently, expectantly. They want to know what you know. We all like that power.

We need to be in the information loop in order to function in the real work world. But, like all good things, gossip is a double-edged sword. There is diabolical gossip and there is good gossip. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two and how to make sure you’re in the loop without ever getting busted as a gossip hound – the epitome of Career Limiting Moves.

Be a good listener. Often times, gossip comes in the form of some kind of spleen venting – someone railing about their boss or a coworker. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of diatribe, it means that someone trusts you. Be worthy of that trust and don’t ever betray it.

Be observant. Cultivate your sources of info. Who’s in the know? Every admin assistant in your agency, that’s who. They see things. They know things. If they like you, they might be inclined to share information that could be of value to you. But don’t piss them off. They see and know things about you, too. Everyone is aware of who the boss is, but not everyone understands that the boss isn’t the only one with real power.

Don’t hang with a known gossip monger. Most likely he’s gossiping about you behind your back, too. The bosses know who the big mouths are. You’ll get tarred with the same brush and won’t be considered trustworthy. Which means your chances of promotion will be minimized. Which means you’ll become bitter and unhappy. Which means your only source of satisfaction will be from gossiping about all those people who passed you by on their way to the top. Don’t you hate that gossip monger now?

Don’t fan the flames with your own chin-wag. It’ll fry your bacon, one way or another. If you’ll simply BURST if you don’t tell someone about your coworker’s inappropriate use of his desk with the cleaning lady – tell someone who doesn’t work in the biz. Who are they going to tell? If someone is stealing from your company or behaving in a manner that is damaging to others, that’s a different story. You have to speak up. But only do so if you’ve seen these things with your own two eyes. And if that’s the case, get advice from a mentor on how to best proceed.

Never dis your boss, to anyone, at any time. OK, maybe you can tell your mother. But, even then, think twice. Your ma could call your boss to find out why he’s being so mean to her baby.

You are allowed to dis ex-bosses, but only using pseudonyms like ‘Evil Woman’. Because it’s amazing how even the most hateful, stupid, smelly, obnoxious, heinous people manage to have one or two friends.

Some special notes on e-mail. First, never forward someone’s non-business-related e-mail to anyone else. Second, never put tattle in an e-mail. I once broke both of those rules in one sitting. A friend had been corresponding with a public figure. She forwarded me one of their e-mails. I responded to my friend (rather wittily, I might add) with a rejoinder that was less than kind to this person. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. I actually responded, quite by accident, to the public figure. D’oh! That’s right up there as one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. And you get that learning right here for free. Lucky you.

Use gossip to your advantage whenever possible. Let’s say you’re thinking about taking a new position and you want to find out what the boss or company is like. Put the feelers out to your sources. This is a small biz, so everyone knows someone who knows everyone. Keep in mind, though, that what you’re getting back is gossip. If you get one or two negative vibes, take it for what it’s worth, which is not a whole lot. If you’re deluged with feedback that your potential new boss is Psycho Stella the Wonder Stooge – pay heed.

The last thing I would do is to counsel a monkish abstinence from gossip, because that’s unrealistic. But what you can do freely, and with a joy-filled heart, is share a little innocuous dirt about those upon whom you wish nothing good.

I remember when I was a peon at a PR agency. The place was run by an Evil Woman. Without exception, everyone who worked for her was trouser-wetting afraid of her. On an office wall, she had a sign that proudly declared, ‘Never apologize.’ Hag.

Anyway, one day, I was in the ladies’ room. In the stall beside me was Evil Woman. Much to my dismay, she assaulted me and my space with a cacophonous breeze, if you know what I’m saying. By god, I had hit the mother lode! For well over half an hour, I basked in the glory of bringing the news of Evil Woman’s flatulence to my pathetic, much-abused work mates. To my mind, a little harmless gossip empowers otherwise helpless peons.

The key word here is ‘harmless.’ The fact that, in private, this lady has a bellowing backside in no way places limits on her career. Use your best judgment to determine what constitutes a harmless laugh and confine these giggles to folks you can trust.

Here’s the bottom line. What goes around, comes around. When indulging in the fine art of gossiping, always remember that you’re dealing with the lives and reputations of other people. Not to mention your own reputation, which in this business is so valuable. So to maintain your reputation as the excellent individual that you are, be just that and control the urge to purge to your pals in the office.

Pamela Davis is a group account director at Publicis in Toronto.