If You Think Your Coworkers Are Talking About You, They Probably Are

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Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

To some degree, it’s healthy to be concerned about what other people think of you. It makes us more self-aware and open to constructive criticism. But when people are overly-self-conscious, negative thinking can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.That’s what London Business School researcher Jennifer Carson Marr and her colleagues found in their study, Do I want to know? How the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information in groups contributes to paranoid thought, suspicion behaviour and social rejection, published in the Journal of Organizational behaviour And Human Decision Process.

The researchers wrote that, on one hand, people want information on others because it reduces uncertainty and “gives people a greater sense of control and predictability over their environments.”

But there are healthy and unhealthy ways go about assessing social situations. “Blunters” generally avoid gathering information, whereas “monitors” gather as much information as they can. “Monitors” are people who are more likely to become paranoid and incorrectly assess social situations. By holding these views, the researchers found, “monitors” often attract the very negative situations they are trying to avoid:

“In this paper, we propose that group members vary in their motivation to search for diagnostic information about whether other group members seek to cause them indirect harm. Drawing from theories of motivated social cognition and symbolic interactionism, we hypothesize that this motivation is associated with paranoid thought patterns and suspicion behaviours that can anger other group members and lead them to reject those who actively search for evidence that others are secretly trying to harm them.”


Photo: Journal of Organizational behaviour And Human Decision Process

To evaluate how “motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information” (otherwise known as MARTI) affects people, they performed several experiments. In one study, they asked 102 participants to perform a number of tasks, creating a sense of uncertainty by suggesting that some members were in a more advantageous position than others (when in fact they were not). All group members were then asked, in a survey, if they wanted to exclude certain group members, and the researchers found that “the odds of excluding someone who possessed higher MARTI qualities was 3.63 times greater” than those who did not exhibit paranoia.

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