The dance of social interaction between people is filled with a variety of movements. Gossip is, unfortunately, one of these.
Evolutionary psychologists have theorized that gossip evolved as a means of socially corrective behavior to bring someone who has stepped out of line back into the social group without direct confrontation or conflict.
The person who is being gossiped about finds out that other people are speaking badly about their behavior. That social cue then prompts the person to change their behavior to not stand out from the group.
Though this theory exists, there is ample evidence that gossip is detrimental to all parties. We don’t live in a world that requires that level of tribalism for survival anymore.
Gossip is problematic in that it is an unrestrained conversation about other people and their lives that is typically not confirmed as being factual.
And even if it is confirmed as being true, that doesn’t mean it should be information for other people to talk about.
Gossip can be hurtful, embarrassing, and even damaging to a person’s life and reputation.
The people doing the gossiping are also harmed by damaging their own reputation and trustworthiness.
After all, no one is going to share sensitive information with you if they don’t feel that you can be trusted with it.
That can be damaging in both personal and professional relationships.
You certainly don’t want your friends or family looking at you as an untrustworthy person as that prevents meaningful connections.
The workplace adds another level of difficulty, because damaging the trust of your boss or coworkers may cost you opportunities and harmony.
Being a gossip will eventually disturb your own peace and happiness because of the blow-back you experience.
It’s simply not worth the little bit of excitement and drama in the major scheme of things.
Is there such a thing as good gossip?
It depends on how you look at it. There is no good gossip if you are going by the literal definition and how people tend to view those that gossip.
It is inherently a negative thing because people are airing out the dirty laundry of their friends, family members, and acquaintances, whether or not it’s true.
And even if it is true, it’s not the place of the person gossiping to provide commentary on that dirty laundry.
People who thrive on gossip tend to dismiss the behavior as not that big of a deal or even positive.
But it remains to be seen how much they would enjoy having their actions or problems circulated through other people for the entertainment of those doing the whispering.
If gossip were a good thing, then it wouldn’t need to take place in whispers, private conversations, and behind the person’s back.
Be skeptical of people who frame it as a good thing.
How Do I Stop Gossiping About Other People?
Let’s look at some simple ways to stop gossiping about other people.
1. Consider how you would feel if other people were sharing your business behind your back.
Start with a small step of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
In fact, you may have already had an experience where you’ve shared something sensitive with someone you thought you could trust, and they then went and shared it with other people.
How did that make you feel? Did you appreciate it? Or was it hurtful?
Did you want to share anything with that person again after they betrayed your trust? Would you want to share anything with anyone who betrayed your trust?
2. Don’t put yourself into a position where gossip is a possibility.
Sometimes we have certain friends for specific reasons. A recovering alcoholic may find that they lose friends because all they actually shared with their friends was the common desire to drink.
Similarly, some people thrive on drama and gossip. These people are constantly looking for the next juicy tidbit to talk about with other gossipers.
Take a look at the person or people that you gossip with. What do you share with them? What do you talk about? Is it only gossip?
If it is, you might want to consider whether or not you need some distance from that person to stop getting pulled into those conversations.
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3. Steer conversations away from gossip.
Perhaps the person or people you are gossiping with share more with you than the gossip. Maybe it’s a good friend or a relative that simply can’t resist a juicy story about someone else.
In that case, you’ll want to steer the conversation away from gossip. You can do this with a few simple lines.
“I really don’t want to talk about other peoples’ business.”
“I’m not interested in talking about that. Can we talk about something else instead?”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Clearly state that you’re not interested in that line of conversation, and if you can, offer up a different subject for you to talk about.
4. Avoid rushing to judgment.
There are few things that people like more than a juicy story with all the sordid details. It’s exciting to feel like you’re on the inside of an interesting story.
The question is whether it’s yours to even be a part of.
Tempering that excitement by not rushing to judgment can help you better maintain control of your actions and reduce the desire to gossip.
A white-hot story is usually not something to be taken at face value. People love to embellish facts to make something bigger or different than it is.
And if the story is too good, too pure, too interesting, there’s an excellent chance that important details or context is missing from the story.
Sensationalism is a tactic that the media uses to get people to tune in. But it’s also a tactic that gossips use to make the stories they want to share more interesting.
You don’t know the essential details that could completely change the context of the story. And so you’d just wind up spreading a falsehood that could very much harm the person being gossiped about.
5. Don’t speak negatively about a person behind their back.
This simple rule can help you guide your conversations and behavior in a more positive direction.
Life is hard. The people around you are likely dealing with difficult, painful emotional loads that we may not understand.
Maybe the person being gossiped about is doing things that they should be criticized for, but that doesn’t mean we should whisper about them.
Talking about a thing behind their back is more for the benefit of the gossips than it is for the person being criticized.
There’s a popular bit of advice in leadership that is relevant here: “Praise in public, criticize in private.”
You don’t discuss a person’s faults in public because it just makes them defensive and usually makes you look like a jerk.
The same is true in gossiping and speaking negatively about other people.
6. Defend the person that is being gossiped about.
Call out gossip happening around you, especially if you know it isn’t truthful.
Defend the person who is not there to defend themselves. This will do a few valuable things for you.
It clearly communicates to the group that you are not prepared to gossip about others, thus making it less likely for them to talk around you.
That will help to create a boundary around you that not only keeps gossip out but also keeps you from further engaging in gossip.
Defending a person who is not able to defend themselves is also a mark of character. Standing up for what’s right or just is not often an easy thing to do. The gossipers may not appreciate it, but the person you defended likely will.
7. Just leave.
We’ve made both hard and soft suggestions on how to better control your own gossiping.
What you can’t control is what other people do.
You can try to change the subject, steer the conversation, stand up for the other person, and still find that the people gossiping still want to gossip.
You can always just leave the situation if you need to and refuse to participate. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
And just a bit of forewarning, don’t be surprised if you become the subject of gossip when you’re trying to break this habit.
The people who you used to gossip with will likely have something to say about you because of it.
Don’t let them dissuade you from making a positive change for yourself.
Talking badly about other people behind their backs rarely ends well for anyone.