Why We Gossip And What To Do Instead

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Most people agree gossip is not healthy or helpful and that it’s everywhere!

“How would your life be different if…You walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…You speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.”

Steve Maraboli, Author, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

When I work with clients in workplaces, schools and homes, I invite them to end gossip in order to build trust and strengthen teamwork. I introduce them to a practice called a Mind Trust, an agreement to bring issues directly to one another instead of gossiping. In a Mind Trust, two people meet face-to-face, and say:

  1. “I commit to you I won’t say bad things about you behind your back.
  2. If I have an issue with you, I’ll come directly to you with it.
  3. And I won’t listen to anyone else say bad things about you.
  4. If anyone comes to me to complain about you, I’ll direct them back to you.”
Initially, about 50% of people discover they aren’t secure enough or capable of committing to a Mind Trust. They lack trust, skills or confidence. That’s when the discussion begins. We talk about gossip, especially the good reasons we engage in it. Some include:
1. To feel empowered. Stress in relationships often triggers feelings of overwhelm and the belief we’re not empowered. To combat this, gossip give a false sense of power; pseudo-power. Gossip then provides the illusion we’re taking meaningful action when in fact we’re avoiding it.

2. To feel lovable. We often have faulty interpretations of negative behavior from others, become triggered by self-doubt and insecurity, and conclude we’re not lovable. Gossip provides temporary relief as we inflate our own virtues and exaggerate the faults of others.

3. To feel contributing. We gossip to compensate for times we’re not giving, doing or saying what would otherwise fulfill us and be aligned with our values either because we feel too afraid, unclear, unable and unwilling to take action.

4. To feel connected. Especially in the US, many people report they experience inadequate physical and emotional connection. Gossip, unfortunately is a widely sanctioned way to intensely connect as opposed to more vulnerable expressions of appreciation, encouragement and love often disdained as too mushy or touchy-feely.

5. “Don’t we just need to vent?” Venting can be helpful but not the way it’s normally done. Gossip as venting is just another way to create the feeling of meaningful action. And indiscriminate, unfocused venting hurts: the one giving it, the one receiving it and the one gossiped about. So… here are some steps to healthy, intentional venting:

    • Don’t name names or specifics and state your intention to create a resolution. For example, “A situation came up and I need to talk about how I’m feeling and what I want to do about it so I can take steps to deal with it. Do you have time and energy to listen to me so I can come up with a plan?” Then be sure to create a plan.

    • Share YOUR doubts, fears and weaknesses only. For example, “I haven’t been handling things well. Now, I’m afraid to tell this person how I feel and what I want. I worry I won’t listen well, be open or stay calm. I’m not sure I can handle their responses. I’m afraid I’ll make things worse.”

    • Do something to lift your energy when you complete venting. Laugh out loud, give your friend a high five or ask for a hug. As you move into taking action on your plan, inspire and encourage yourself with music, prayer, your highest vision or a quote, to name a few. I often think of Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want” or Goethe’s, “Until one commits, then Providence moves.”

    • Share your highest vision of your outcome. “I’ll ask this person to either be on time or call me if not so I can find a back up person. I’m committed to end the conversation with understanding and mutual respect.”

    • Come up with and state your plan. Describe simple steps, “First, I’m going to make a request. I won’t dredge up the past. I’ll ask for what I want going forward.”

    • Role-play and brainstorm. Ask your friend to let you practice and give you feedback.

When venting is handled with an intention to take constructive action and greater personal responsibility, everyone wins, everyone feels empowered and lovable and you have the satisfaction that comes from creating an intensely positive, powerful connection, which is a fulfilling alternative. So… if you find yourself in the habit of gossiping, stop and remember these 5 good reasons people gossip. If you want, you can then gracefully shift from gossip into something more constructive.

This article was published nationally in The Women’s Journals in the column on Emotional Intelligence, Oct/Nov 2011.

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