Reasons to avoid gossip:
- To those engaging in it, gossip provides a hollow basis for friendship.
- The bond it creates among gossipers consists of mutual disdain and blame.
- Gossip says more about the people engaging in it that it says about the target of the gossip.
- It paints a picture of the gossiper as petty, insecure, and compensating for low self-esteem.
- Gossiping can backfire because it erodes peoples' trust in the one doing it.
- They think, "If she talks about someone else like that, will she also talk about me?"
- Gossiping lowers the gossiper's opinion of herself.
- Gossip is insidious (meaning sneaky, tricky, crafty, deceitful, false, snaky, cunning and duplicitous)
How do you handle it if someone gossips in your presence?
- Tell him you don't find it helpful to talk about people behind their backs.
- Say what is helpful: talking directly with the person about the gripe or negative opinion.
And now for the story I promised you:
A young man I know in Chicago (I'll call him Thomas) recently made trouble for himself. Talking with work colleagues one day, he joined in bad-mouthing their boss. Someone in the group later ratted to the boss what Thomas had said. The boss talked with Thomas—and fired him.
As I talked with him, Thomas identified how "chameleon" behavior had been a pattern for him. You may know that chameleons change their color to fit in with their background. Thomas so wanted to fit in with and be accepted by his colleagues that he blended himself into their tone and behavior. In doing so, he abandoned his own authenticity.
Thomas learned how most gossip comes from insecurity and self-doubt. Gossipers feel unsure about their acceptance in the group. So they participate in the gossip, which creates a false sense of belonging.
Thomas found out how false that sense of belonging can be. Participating in the gossip left him vulnerable to the backbiting of someone in the group who masqueraded as his friend, yet who used Thomas's behavior against him.
Talking about people behind their backs lowers the image of the gossiper in the eyes of others, even if they do it, too. Gossip reveals more about the person doing it than it does about the one to whom the gossip refers. People in the gossiping group can never fully trust each other, because, "These people are capable of gossiping about me!"
When we talk with someone about someone else, we dilute any felt need to deliver the message to the person who will benefit from it. If we see something in another that needs improving, doesn't it make sense to talk directly with the person? Only if we do so does our criticism become constructive.
If I were to give advice, I would say avoid gossip at all costs. It's so insidious! On the surface it can appear harmless, yet it presents a treacherous, slippery slope for relationships.
We might feel, if we refuse to participate in the gossip, people will think we’re weird. They'll start gossiping about us! Yes, they may. I suggest taking the following action anyway:
Announce to your friends that it makes you uncomfortable to talk negatively about other people. Tell them, from now on, you intend to avoid doing so. Let them know your choice represents no judgment of them.
Even if your friends take it personally at first, they will love the security of knowing you will not talk negatively about them. Whether or not they show it, they will respect you. If a whole group makes this agreement, it provides a solid basis for friendship and belonging.
Resolve only to talk about others in expressions of appreciation and commendation. You will stand out against a background of deception and backbiting and become a positive example. You can feel confident your words will not get back to someone and hurt them. Others will ultimately respect you.
Best of all, you will respect yourself!