Is Gossip Your Guilty Pleasure?

How to stop the nasty habit that's bringing you down

Posted Jan 31, 2014

Man whispering in the ear of shocked woman

Guilty pleasure

Gossip is an insidious, nasty, and completely counter-productive behavior. Unfortunately it’s also a delicious, beguiling temptation because it reinforces our all too human desire to be one of the cool kids—to belong and to be on the inside.

If you are sheepishly thinking that you might be contributing to gossip, here are 3 reasons why you should stop and 5 tips for how to do it.

Reasons to end gossip

  1. It creates and reinforces a negative tone that brings you and everyone around you down.
  2. It fosters “in-group” and “out-group” factions that spiral into other nasty dynamics.
  3. It keeps real issues hidden and reduces the likelihood they’ll ever get resolved.

How to shut gossip down

When you feel like gossiping, replace it with one of the following more productive activities:

  1. Share your negative experiences of someone else’s behavior with a friend and ask for their support to help you feel better. That will keep the focus on your reactions to an event, rather than on the third party who’s not in the room. “At that meeting yesterday, I felt Sally was making fun of my ideas. Can you reassure me that I’m contributing?”
  2. Ask for coaching about how to handle the person differently. “Each time I interact with Sally, I feel like she misses my point. How could I get my point across more effectively with her?”
  3. Go directly to the person you were going to complain about and get the issue on the table. “Sally, I don’t feel like I got my point across yesterday. What can I do to make a better connection with you?”

When someone comes to you to gossip, you have just as much responsibility to shut it down. Try one of the following:

  1. If you weren’t present for the issue in question, don’t engage in a conversation about the third party. Instead, say “I wasn’t there so I can’t speak to Sally’s behavior. Tell me how you experienced it.”
  2. If you were present for the event in question, share your experience. “That’s interesting, I experienced Sally as being frustrated that we have this issue, not with your suggestion.”
  3. Offer support and coaching about how the person might deal with the situation differently next time. “If this happens again, you might want to say it this way.”
  4. Encourage the person to address the issue directly with the individual or with the whole team. “This is important and I think you need to raise it the next time we’re all together.”
  5. Let the person rehearse how they might raise the issue constructively and give them feedback and tips on how it came across.

Gossip can feel great because it makes us feel like we’re part of something—a very primal human need. Like many of our more primitive desires, it can get us into trouble. Channel your gossip into more productive discussions. You feel so much better.  

Click here for my free video on the Right Words to Say to Shut Down Gossip.