While gossip isn’t always a bad thing, it can be incredibly harmful. It’s good to find ways to limit your own gossip tendencies, as well as not engaging with gossip with other people. See step 1 to get started dealing with gossip, both from yourself and from others.
Keeping Yourself From Gossiping
Sort out negative gossip from the rest. Not all gossip is bad, so you don’t need to completely eradicate it from your life. You should, however, learn to differentiate between harmless gossip and the kind of gossip that hurts people.
People who are spreading gossip (and most people do at some time oranother) don’t spend a lot of time getting facts. In fact, they have usually heard the information they’re spreading second or third hand.
There’s also difference between blowing of steam about a person or incident with a trusted friend and spreading toxic misinformation (or one-sided information) to a bunch of people. Unless someone is dangerous (they’re a rapist or an abuser or thief), you don’t usually need to air your conflicts.
For example: telling people that you heard Harry from accounting was cheating on his wife is malicious gossip (even if it is true, people don’t need to know that). Now, if you are Harry’s wife and you find out that he is cheating on you, you can tell people (especially people like family if they ask why you’re getting divorced, or to clear it up if Harry starts saying that he initiated the divorce because you were cheating).
Ask yourself what the point of repeating the information is. Human beings are social creatures and gossip is part of the framework of society. It can help to maintain social norms and keep people’s worse instinct in check, if they think people are paying attention to what they’re doing. It can also be used, however, to destroy reputations, and lift the gossiper’s status at the expense of other people.
Some questions to consider about your information: is it harmful? is it substantiated (can you support the gossip with actual facts, instead of just hearsay)? Am I doing this to make myself feel better or raise my status? Is this something that I’ve heard second or third-hand?
If you’re gossiping because it puts you at the center of attention, or boosts your ego, you need to stop. That’s where the harmful aspects of gossip come in. Imparting information is one thing (example: “Did you hear that they’re adding a new wing to the library?” or “Did you hear that Christian was hospitalized? You should send him a card.”) but harmful gossip is another (example: “I heard that Sandra slept with like all of Human Resources; it’s why she’s getting a raise and we aren’t.”).
Figure out the problem behind the gossip. Sometimes the reasons that you’re spreading gossip about someone is because you’re angry about them or something they’ve done. Consider why what they’re doing bothers you so much. Sometimes, it’s because you’re guilty of the same practice yourself. For example: If you find yourself constantly talking about how Jane is such a slut and is always attracting boys, stop and ask yourself, what’s the problem here? Is it because you’re jealous of the attention given to Jane? Does Jane even want such an interest? Even if Jane does sleep with a variety of guys, what does that have to do with you?
You really want to get to the root of the problem, especially if it is something that has been ongoing (especially if you’ve been gossiping about the same person or situation over and over again).
Do something about the problem. Sometimes, instead of just venting to every person you meet, you should figure out a solution to the root problem. This may require talking to the person about whom you’re gossiping, but it can often foster a more healthy and trusting network of relationships. Sometimes what you have to do is remove someone out of your life. For example, instead of talking about how rude and inconsiderate your ex-girlfriend was (and still is), you stop engaging with her, de-friend her on Facebook, and delete her out of your phone. This way, instead of wasting energy talking to people about her, you move on to talking about things that are more fun.
Give yourself a gossip specific time limit. If you can’t help but talk about a certain person or a certain time limit, set yourself a specific amount of time to talk about it. Once that time is up, you’re finished and you can focus your energies on something more positive.
Limit yourself to between 2 and 5 minutes for talking about this (per dayif possible). Do not give yourself the same amount of time for each person.
Avoiding Gossip With Others
Privately address specific perpetrators. If you’re trying to deal with persistent gossips take them aside individually and discuss the issue. Especially if you’re someone in a position of authority, you might need to take care of a situation with gossiping.
Deal with chronic gossipers. Figure out who they are and try and avoidthem. If you can’t avoid them, don’t give them the satisfaction of imparting information to you. When they try and gossip, change the subject, or get away from them. Unlike people who gossip every once in awhile, chronic gossipers are unlikely to be deterred by a simple talking to.
For example: if Dan, your brother-in-law, constantly discusses yoursiblings around you and talks about how his sister is a harpy and his brother is a thief, take him aside and ask him what the problem is with your siblings. Tell him that it isn’t appropriate to pass along information about them to other people. If there is a problem (your brother actually has stolen something from him, for example), help to deal with it.
Remember that men are just as likely to gossip as women, even if it isn’t often called gossip, but men can pass harmful or inaccurate information, too.
Find an appropriate response. When someone comes to you with a juicy bit of harmful gossip, find a way to deflect the situation, or make the gossiper aware of the harmful nature of what they’re saying.
Some ways to gently turn the attention towards the harmful nature ofgossip: “Let’s look at this from X’s point of view,” (X being the subject of the gossip) “Why do you talk about X so much?” or “Hey, maybe we could find a way to fix this”
Try and find a way to get to the bottom of the gossiper’s issue with the person they are spreading rumors about. If they are a chronic gossiper, you’re probably going to have to shut them down a little more forcefully.
Change the subject. Sometimes you just have to move away from negative gossiping and focus on something more positive. Try and do this without blaming the gossiper, because that can turn their ire on you. When they start gossiping, say something like “Hey, we should plan what we’re going to this afternoon after work.”
You can also say something like “This conversation has gotten really negative about X. Let’s talk about something more positive” (especially if the subject of the gossip is negative).
Disengage. In the end, if you can’t turn the topic of the conversation, it’s best to walk away or explain that you’re not interested in hearing that type of gossip. You may irritate the person gossiping and they might say things about you, which are welcome to contradict. However, it might be best simply to not engage with that type of situation.
For example, you could say something like “Hey, I’m not interested in hearing unsubstantiated rumors about so-and-so,” or “I don’t really care what X’s sexuality is.”
If you simply don’t want to make a big deal out of the situation, you could make an excuse “I have to get back to work” or “I have to go home,” etc.
If you ever get the urge to talk about someone, pretend that they are standing right next to you so you won’t say anything offensive about them behind their back.
Peoples’ loyalties are subject to change. If you are involved in gossip, you may become the subject of later gossip.
Make it clear that you’re not interested in hearing or participating in gossip and be careful what personal information you share with such a person.
If you confront people who gossip, be prepared for them to turn that tendency around on you. Decide if confronting them is worth it, otherwise, try and let it go.
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How to Make a Clean Comeback
How to Interpret Innuendo
How to Feign Interest when an Annoying Person Talks to You
Sources and Citations
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