We’ve got a phrase in our family about the “gossip train.” It means that once you start gossiping, it just picks up stream and goes on and on. And hey, none of us are perfect. We’ve all gossiped. We all do it. But really, we need to be mindful of it because it can really hurt.
Gossip seems to rear its ugly head during weird times. When we were first married, we got hit with gossip from a few places and it left a lasting impact on the relationships we allowed in our life from then on. We met and fell in love and got married within a year, and for some reason certain people felt the need to make stuff up.
Gossip has the power to tear down trust in an instant. A friend spreading rumors about you or repeating things you told them for their ears only can feel like deep betrayal. But people don’t always gossip to be malicious. Sometimes people talk about other people’s business because they’re bored or don’t think it’s a big deal. But the Golden Rule applies here. If you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to someone else.
Even listening to a rumor about a friend can bring on hurt feelings. You can be put in an awkward situation where your friend thinks you were entertaining the rumor because you stood there and said nothing. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Knowing that a friend stood there silently as others were talking harshly about you may be as bad as hearing that he or she actively spread a rumor about you. We expect our friends to be so loyal to us that they will open their mouths and stop gossip in its place.
I’ve become better about shutting down gossip as I’ve gotten older. One time I had just met someone new and we found out we knew someone in common. Now, I didn’t know this other person very well but I’d met them enough that I liked them. And yet this new person starting in with the rumors. Too often in my life, I think about things too long. (I’m a thinker, ya’ll!) But this particular time, I opened my mouth before I thought about it and said, “You know what? I’m usually so in my own world I just don’t pay attention to that kind of gossip. X has always been really nice to me, though, so that’s what I go on.”
That stopped the gossiper in her tracks. I actually couldn’t believe I had said that. For once, opening my mouth without thinking did something right. Yay! LOL
When You Don’t Know What to Say
So that one time I responded correctly and shut down gossip. I’ve also sat there feeling uncomfortable when someone else was running their mouth and did nothing. I left feeling horrible. What I wished I had done in those situations is just remind whoever is gossiping that the person being talking about is my friend, someone I care about. Just an I’m not comfortable listening to gossip about them would do the trick.
Rumors can take on a life of their own, to the point where the person being gossiped about no longer seems like a real flesh and blood person who has friends and family that care about them. Telling a gossiper straight out that you do care about this person may shut down the gossip without further issue.
Change the Subject
Another way to handle gossip is to change the subject. A quick change in topic lets a person know that you don’t entertain gossip, you’re bored with it, and they shouldn’t bring it up again. You could also say, “Oh, that’s gossip. I don’t listen to that. So anyway…” and then continue on with a different story.
If you’re talking with a small group of coworkers or acquaintances and someone starts gossiping, you can also walk away as a way to shut down the gossip. It’s easier in those situations because you don’t have to explain yourself. When you’re at work you have to get back to it. If you’re at school, you’ll show them that you’re too busy for petty gossip. Walking away says a lot.
Don’t just walk away, though, and then continue to hang out with people who gossip on a regular basis. If you’re friends with them, you need to take the difficult step of telling them what they don’t want to hear. Talk to them with a caring tone and attitude and remind them that they’re too smart and special to be a common gossiper.
Ask Your Friend Why They Are Telling You This
Have you ever had a friend let out gossip so quickly that before you know it you’ve stood there and listened to their whole story? Kind of difficult to walk away or stop them in their tracks when they’re a fast or loud talker and get the whole thing out before you can put a halt to things.
In this case, say something like, “Why are you telling me this?” or “I don’t appreciate that. Let’s change the subject.” or “I’m surprised that you would repeat something like that.”
It’s not always easy to take a stand. If you’re someone that hears people out, for example, you may hear gossip when you don’t want to. But even when you miss the chance to shut it down, you don’t have to spread it. Be cognizant about how you would feel if the person were gossiping about you, and act accordingly. You would be surprised at how powerful small but consistent actions are in shutting down gossip.