Photo Credit: DeeMayGreaves
I used to love gossiping – chewing on a juicy story about where someone’s boyfriend was seen after the party, or the story behind how that colleague really got fired. It was a great way to bond with my friends and family, made for lively conversation, and even seemed to make me feel better about myself.
Here’s how Random House Dictionary defines gossip:
Idle talk or rumor, esp. about the personal or private affairs of others.
Here’s the way I define it:
Talking in negative ways about someone who is not in the room.
It’s not always gossip to talk of others – you may need to work out a personnel issue, or figure out a problem in a friendship with the help of someone else. In which case, it is not really “idle;” you have a goal to work something out for yourself. But when it starts to feel unkind or unnecessary, it’s more likely gossip.
Here’s the truth: gossip is a huge distraction. It’s a way to avoid looking at myself, and what’s going on inside there. Why does it “make me feel better” to talk about someone else, especially their shortcomings, embarrassments, or misfortunes? Because deep down, I feel insecure and don’t want to face it. Better to focus on someone else’s tragedies because in comparison, my life is a cake walk.
Eventually, due to the hard look I took into my insecurities (a story for another day), I realized that gossip was only hurting me. In the process of weaning myself from the habit, I gained some insight. I highly recommend giving up gossip to gain these benefits:
- Regain lost time in a busy day – When I stopped listening to or participating in gossip about other people, I had a lot more time for other activities! Better conversations, more productive work time, space to be creative in my thinking and hobbies, opportunities for mindfulness and meditation.Try noticing how much time you spend talking about people who are not in the room with you – what could you do with that time?
- Learn to listen to others – Stepping back and becoming aware of the content of my conversations gave me a chance to stop talking and start listening. Listening to the energy behind them can be more informative than the words themselves. It helped me to start figuring out what kind of conversations were productive, growth-enhancing, and enriching rather than draining.Can you pause before jumping into a juicy gossip fest? Try taking a pause, or a breath, before you dive in.
- Have more substantive conversations – Letting go of the focus on other people’s shortcomings meant I could talk more about issues of concern to my well-being or the person I was talking to. I could focus on talking things through, identifying problems, and discovering solutions.Gossip is often a way to avoid looking at your own issues. Try refraining from gossip for a day. What else is coming up?
- Gain better self-esteem – Removing myself from gossip helped my self-esteem. In the past, talking about someone else often made me feel guilty or uneasy, wondering if they were going to hear what I’d said behind their backs. By focusing my conversations, I gained relief from these nagging feelings, and felt much better about my integrity.If you hear gossip today, try this exercise: Nod, acknowledge what the other is saying, and either extract yourself from the conversation or change the subject.
- Focus on compassion for others – When I stopped talking badly about others, and started focusing on what was going on with me, I was able to get some distance from others. I could see they were struggling with their own issues and even if they had negative behaviors, I could see they were doing their best to cope, just as I was.Consider the perspective of the person you are gossiping about. There’s a reason for their behavior, even if you don’t understand it. Think about what you can do to protect yourself, or to distance yourself so you are less affected, even if they don’t change.
A Few Suggestions for Breaking the Gossip Habit
- Notice when the conversation slides into discussion of other people in negative ways. Awareness is the first step. Don’t beat yourself up, just take notice.
- Ask yourself what you’re getting out of it? Is gossip helping you avoid something? Is something bothering you at work; maybe there’s a conflict between you and the person you’re gossiping about; or it could just be an unrelated issue.
- Remove yourself from conversations tending toward the negative and complaining about people who aren’t in the room.
- Gently change the subject. Indicate you are not comfortable with the topic and suggest another for discussion.
- Focus on the positive. If you don’t want to bring it up directly, keep steering conversations to positive ideas and topics whenever gossip comes up.
Linda Wolf writes Insanely Serene, a blog devoted to her passion for peace of mind. She shares her experiences and offers practical suggestions for finding your way back to serenity under any conditions. You can subscribe to her RSS feed (RSS Feed: feed://insanelyserene.wordpress.com/feed/) and also find her on Twitter at @insanelyserene.