The Perils of Gossip: 6 Ways to Avoid Getting Sucked In
Gossip is a part of life. Most everyone has engaged in it. It starts early in life, usually in elementary school, but it gets a big boost in middle and high school. You’d hope that it would be left there as people grow up and move into adult life, but that’s not the case. Go in any office setting and you will hear it, or just sit in a restaurant with you ears open. Better yet, go on Facebook and you’ll see every kind of people bashing imaginable.
In all actuality, it’s easy to engage in gossip, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid it. We’re naturally interested in what other people are doing, and we have opinions about it. That’s a given.
The problem is the element of judgment, hate, and negativity that creeps in and gets expressed in ways that can be hurtful. Gossip is ultimately a betrayal to the person we’re talking about and to ourselves. There’s really nothing good about it. Here’s how to stop it.
Focus on yourself.
When you have the urge to talk about what someone else is doing in a judgmental and critical way, stop yourself and ask,
“What do I need to be working on right now?”
This is actually a very effective way to shift your attention away from gossiping rather quickly, and it has the added benefit of focusing on self-improvement which is always needed.
Are you criticizing something in yourself?
Often we are critical of things we struggle with ourselves. This is an unconscious automatic strategy the psyche has of trying to get rid of things we don’t like about ourselves. Instead of owning it, we find it in someone else and then shred it.
Of course it doesn’t work. It just sends us into a deeper hole of denial so that the very thing we don’t like gets further and further displaced and unavailable for correction.
The strategy to avoid this is to immediately ask yourself,
“Is this something I struggle with?”
If it’s big enough for you to notice in someone else, it may belong to you also.
Assess your motivation.
Ask yourself what you are gaining from participating in gossip.
Are you feeling better about yourself momentarily by looking at someone else’s problems? Is it providing a distraction from your own stuff, or from your life, or from your discontent? What is that exact feeling you get when you engage in gossip?
Common answers are that it feels somewhat stimulating or exciting to focus on someone else’s mistakes. The juicier the story, the more stimulating the engagement in talking about it.
It’s important to know what you’re getting out of it so that you can find those gains in ways that don’t produce such negative outcomes.
If you need distraction, or you’re discontent, or you’re unhappy, or you feel bored, or you’re jealous of someone, or you’re stuck in any negative emotional state that gets temporarily lifted by gossiping, then you need to turn your attention directly toward that problem and deal with it rather than distracting yourself from it by hurting someone else.
Recognize the consequences.
Anytime you participate in gossip, you’re hurting someone else whether they know about it or not. Ultimately, that means you hurt yourself because you are involving yourself in betrayal and destructive behavior.
What helps is to imagine yourself being the subject of the gossip, and overhearing it. How would you feel? Would you be hurt?
Most likely, the answer is yes. You would be hurt. Maybe a lot.
Another negative outcome of gossiping is that you’re broadcasting to others that you aren’t trustworthy.
“If you’ll talk about her when she’s out of earshot, who’s to say you won’t talk about me when I’m not around.”
“Does this behavior align with who I think I am and how I see myself?”
Confront problems, set limits, and establish boundaries.
If you are talking about someone out of frustration with them, then decide if there is a real problem you need to confront.
Setting limits on bad behavior is something that should be done if the behavior is destructive, abusive, invasive, or overall impacts you negatively.
Instead of gossiping, deal with the problem. If you need to set a boundary, set a limit, or simply have a conversation to express your concerns and find a solution, do that. If something is really bothering you, then take action, but make sure the action is constructive.
If you’re taking a stand on an issue that is important to you, then do it directly. That’s entirely different than gossiping.
Avoid gossip circles.
When you hang around people on a regular basis that engage in a lot of gossip, you’ll find the pull to join in pretty irresistible. It’s not because you’re bad person, but because it is much easier to focus on someone else’s stuff than your own, and because you want to be part of the group.
Gossiping with others is a way of bonding. It’s like joining a club, and what we have in common is we don’t like the same people and we enjoy talking about them. The problem is that this is a middle school club, and a very treacherous one. It doesn’t offer anything of value.
Sometimes you can just say you don’t want to gossip because you wouldn’t want anyone talking about you that way. If you’re part of a group with a pretty intact conscience, others will take your lead and refrain from gossip also. If not, you may get some negative vibes. If that happens, then you can be sure that when you aren’t around, you’ll become the subject of conversation.
The point is, pick friends with integrity, hang out with people who find gossiping toxic, and build relationships based on real interchange and interests, not people bashing.
I hope this is some food for thought as we head into the Holiday Season. Peace, love and warmth to everyone!