Chicken Feed

According to Merriam–Webster’s Online Dictionary, the term “Chicken Feed” is “slang:  a paltry sum (as in profits or wages)” or as the more literal definition in Wikipedia explains, “Before the twentieth century, poultry were mostly kept on general farms, and foraged for much of their feed, eating insects, grain spilled by cattle and horses, and plants around the farm. This was often supplemented by grain, household scraps, calcium supplements such as oyster shell, and garden waste.” Nowadays, chickens are generally fed some kind of “nutritionally complete poultry feed.” The point is, that chickens peck around in an endless scavenge through the dirt for scraps and bits of something to gobble up.

The “chickens” around us at work or other places are out scrounging for bits of information. They peck through the dirt to catch the crumb of a detail or to pry out a secret to preserve, treasuring all the emotional impact of the details and looking for more in order to expand the story. Of course, most of the cherished morsels of these workplace chickens are then shared with the select members of their own chicken‑y flock, those people who will also relish these same smidgens of information, expand it, and then pass it around. A gaggle of such chickens probably scratches around for feed in every workplace or organization. These chickens—both hens and roosters—are what you know as the workplace gossips and the gossip squad.

Difficult, but not impossible, is the task of avoiding workplace gossip and the gossip squad. Gossip is such an undercurrent at many workplaces and organizations that some organizations and workplaces actually depend on gossip to spread necessary workplace information. In such cases, this is called, “Word of Mouth” or “The Grapevine,” but nonetheless, it is actually a kind of gossip. In such cases, it has to be tolerated or even cultivated, because frankly, it is the only communication channel for dispensing important workplace information. If you don’t listen or ask questions of those “in the know” you will not know something important. I know of a workplace where an employee only hears about things that affect their livelihood by means of “word-of-mouth” channeling. Such a practice is possibly illegal and definitely unhealthy, but if it is your workplace and the only way to find out what you need to know, then I suppose that you must put up with it or find another job.

However, the kind of unhealthy gossip I am talking about here is that which is directed at or derived from individuals and it is very hurtful and is definitely not kind. Gossips find their identity in being the know-it-all, someone possessing tid-bits of detail to pique the curiosity of others. Gossips see themselves as being a leader, someone in control of their surroundings, at least a little better in control than all those for whom they report salacious or personal details. In other words, a gossip stands outside a situation to offer judgement on the people they gossip about, what their coworkers have or haven’t done, based on the gossips’ own “special” place of discernment or connectedness or insider knowledge. The identity of a gossip is based on a feeling of smug self-satisfaction and self-righteousness.

You don’t need to take part in gossip. When a gossip wishes to dig out information from you or to pass onto you some negative or personal information about someone else, try to be positive instead. Try to offer a different side to the story or even say, “I have a different impression about that; here is something that I think…” as long as you are not passing on some personal information yourself. You neither want to become the target for nor the source of such people’s focus. However, a kind thing for you to do is to find a way to be positive and steer that person into better behavior or more actual sympathy. Or else just avoid them.

The gossip squad will probably keep on pecking in the dirt around you, not realizing how dirty they are getting by it, but you don’t have to get dirty with them. Chicken feed is a paltry gain.

Be kind instead.

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