4 Ways to Effectively Deal With Gossip
Gossip has a surprising effect on mental health.
Posted September 4, 2022 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
- Gossiping may affect the mental health of the gossiper.
- There are effective ways of dealing with gossipers.
- Gossip can negatively affect the gossiper, the listener, and the person who is being gossiped about.
We have all been involved in gossip either as the speaker, the listener, or the talked-about-and-not-present third party.
Gossip serves many purposes. It is often used as a form of social currency where the informant has access to intriguing but not necessarily accurate information. Sometimes it makes people feel closer to each other. On the other hand, gossipers are often perceived as unlikeable because they ruin reputations and betray confidences. Additionally, a study by Cole and Scrivener (2013) found that gossiping is followed by lower self-esteem. Subjects in two of the studies that they conducted found that self-esteem decreased after participants evaluated others in a negative manner. In these studies, when college students were asked to describe others in a negative manner, they consistently experienced decreased self-esteem following the negative evaluation. When the pre- and post-evaluation self-esteem scores were compared, there was a statistically significant difference. Clearly, there were limitations in these studies in that they were conducted in a laboratory setting. Nonetheless, these studies do provide important information about the possible effects of gossiping on the gossipers. The authors of these studies suggested that lowered self-esteem might be a result of gossipers feeling guilty that they are violating the privacy norms of those who are not present to defend themselves.
Certainly, gossip can be problematic to both those gossiped about and to the gossipers themselves. An additional question that many struggle with is how to respond to gossipers when they find themselves in the midst of a scenario where details of personal lives of others are being shared. Consider being in a situation in which a friend or acquaintance is suggesting that another friend's husband is having an affair. Or how about listening to a co-worker telling you about the affairs (sexual or otherwise) of another colleague? You find yourself uncomfortable and confused. You are not quite sure how to handle this.
My goal today is to help you effectively deal with gossipers and gossip when you do not want to be the recipient of either privileged information, rumors, or speculation. This will not be easy but it will be beneficial to the health of both your reputation and relationships. You will also be a positive role model for those around you.
How to deal with gossip
Consider the following ways of effectively dealing with gossip:
Deflect. Maybe you are standing at the bus stop with a neighbor and another parent is a little late to arrive at the bus stop to retrieve her child. The neighbor then suggests that she suspects that that parent is a disorganized person and may in fact be drinking. You know this person who she is gossiping about and feel that this is unnecessary information. The first order of business is to deflect and change the topic. You may need to use some other strategies if the gossip persists but this is a good starting strategy.
- Act disinterested. You may be having lunch with a co-worker. You run out of topics to discuss because you don't have much in common other than work. Your co-worker decides to liven things up by suggesting that another co-worker who you hardly know is having an affair. You are neither interested nor comfortable with this amount of speculation/gossip/information about this person. Try to act a bit disinterested and bored. Look away. Lower your energy level. Deflect. Change the topic. Your conversational partner will likely get the message that you don't want to go there.
- Express your discomfort. Perhaps you have tried the gentler strategies like deflecting and acting disinterested. Nonetheless, the gossiper persists and overwhelms you with information whenever you see each other. You are unable to avoid this individual. Consider telling the gossiper that you are not comfortable with this information and that you are unsure how to deal with it. You do not need to present as angry but instead as concerned and having boundaries.
- Question the information provided. You not only don't want to be the recipient of the gossip but you are also concerned about the reputation and well-being of the person being gossiped about. Here, you might want to ask the speaker about why she is spreading this information or whether or not he is sure that this is true. This strategy might shake the gossiper up just enough to question the value of gossiping.
Cole,J.M. & Scrivener,H.(2013) Short-term effects of gossip behavior on self-esteem.Current Psychology.252-260.