How To Resist Gossip

Nothing can destroy the effectiveness of a team or impact of a leader quite like gossip.   When gossip is present in the workplace, it kills productivity and erases morale.  Gossip can erode credibility and sabotages the organization from within.  When gossip is present in your personal life, it can kill relationships and people’s character.

Courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/horrigans/
Courtesy of
https://www.flickr.com/photos/horrigans/

I think many of us would agree that gossip is a waste of time and energy, and if that is so, why do so many of us engage in it?

Gossip is fun and makes us feel better about ourselves.  It give us a personal thrill to be “in the know” and in business or in our personal lives, knowing private information about others gives us a perceived power that we feel we can yield as we choose.  Gossip is like a tasty poison that we are quick to take and enjoy even as it slowly kills our own integrity and effectiveness.

With countless books, magazines, websites, and even television networks, we are conditioned to desire to know all the juicy details of other people’s lives.  Our culture is super saturated with people digging up every speck of dirt about celebrities, professional athletes, and political figures.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of gossip and never know or realize how much damage you may be doing to someone or yourself.  In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart,” and I think this gives us a great base that we can build upon and start eliminating gossip from our lives.

5 Types Of Gossip

Gossip and gossipers come in all shapes and sizes and what motivates them differs as well.  There often points when the people gossiping are motivated by a combination of reasons.  Any way you slice it, when you or I spread gossip we are actively displaying a behavior based on something that is happening inside of us.  Our actions are always a result of our thoughts, emotions, and a result of our past experiences.

The truth is that everything that comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is found deep within us.  If we dig down and find the motivations behind why we gossip, we can get to the real root of the problem and circumvent the gossiper and squelch the hurtful language.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most common motivations for why people gossip.

Espionage
Someone who pursues dirt on someone else and then uses that information to leverage control and personal advantage. People who seek out this dirt on other are like spies who stealthily work to mine information from others and are motivated by gaining more power: power over someone else or the power of knowing something before any one else.

Grousing
When the going gets rough, some people just want to complain (or grouse) about it.  It’s one thing to take a concern or problem to another for wise counsel, but when it has no constructive purpose, it’s just grumbling over a situation.  Complaining or ‘venting’ with ill will or negative emotions is easy to do and is often fueled by jealousy.

Sabotage
When grousing is driven by extreme anger, this person seeks revenge or retaliation through lies or other smear tactics.  Sabotaging gossip is motivated by extreme jealousy and seeks retaliation, real malicious payback and desires the object of the gossip to experience real pain.

Peer-Pressure
Some people gossip out of a need to fit in and be part of a group. Motivated by fear, not anger, the gossiper may only desire to be included in the conversation and want to be included in the group dynamic.  They see others sharing tasty tidbits of gossip and feel compelled to join in.

Meddling Busybody
Seeking an escape from boredom, this personal often seeks some type of entertainment and desires to live vicariously through other’s stories.  They involve themselves into people’s lives often without an invitation and feel the need for gratification.

How Resist Gossip

It may be cliche, but the old axiom is 100% correct, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  And if more of us lived by that phrase, our lives would be much better, but sadly, gossip is something that we all have to contend with.  But we don’t have to fall into the abyss of spreading these malicious stories and hurting others in the process.  We must actively be on the lookout for gossipy behavior and resist the urge to join in.

When Confronted By Someone Gossiping, Ask Yourself:

1. What does this person really need or believe?

2. What is motivating this person’s actions and words?

When you process what these people saying against their motivation, it will help you get the to real cause of the gossip and allow you to address the issues properly.  Seek first to understand, then try to help them be better understood. It may be helpful to redirect that person to the real source of their gossip and remind them that the only way to come to a  healthy resolution is to discuss their issues with the people they are talking about.

You may have to shut down the conversation if you discern that it has crossed a line and become malicious.  if you struggle with gossip, once you shut down a few people from gossiping to you, they will learn you are not open to that type of conversation.  But beware; you need to preserve your reputation in the process.

When You Find Yourself Gossiping:

  1. STOP, IMMEDIATELY!!
  2. Ask for forgiveness from the people you are gossiping to and then seek forgiveness from the people you were gossiping about.  Eating a little humble pie may also be a great way to reinforce your desire to not gossip and help keep your mouth shut.
  3. Build strong boundaries in your relationships to guard yourself from gossip and from people who spread gossip.
  4. Seek out healthier ways to process your thoughts.
  5. Speak truthful words out of a sincere heart.
  6. Build people up and edify rather than tear then down.
  7. Look for positives in others instead of negatives.
  8. Always believe the best in people – this can be very difficult, but your life will be filled with more blessings that curses.
  9. Talk to people, not about them.
  10. Desire wisdom – read better books, listen to better music, and watch less TV.

Moving Forward

I’m not sure we will ever eradicate gossip from our lives.  As long as people are around, there will always be secrets to spill and dirt to dish.  But we can take steps to protect ourselves from the temptation of gossip.  We can change the way we think about those around us.  We can actively work to make better investments in those we care about and share wisdom instead of bad stories.

Building character is not complicated, but it’s not easy.  It takes time, patience, and constant vigilance.  Be aware of the different types of gossip out there and pay attention to the motivations of the people who speak into your life.  If someone share something with you, keep it to yourself and never betray a trust.  If you can remember how you felt when someone once wronged you, it will be easier to keep it to yourself.

When some one comes to you with a juicy tidbit of gossip, do not let them share it with you.  Remind them that they shouldn’t speak about someone who is not there to explain or defend themselves.  If you have to, create a solid boundary between you and that person so that they know you are serious about not being interested in their gossip.

When you find yourself in a conversation where you are tempted to gossip, ask yourself what is motivating the words you are speaking.  Remind yourself that you about to betray someone’s trust and possibly ruin their reputation.  Find other ways to occupy the discussion, and remember the simple truth of what Mom used to say, “Silence is golden.”


For Further Reading