I try to make sure I abide by the following guideline whenever I am speaking about another person: would I say this to the person’s face? If the answer is truly yes, I can continue. But if not, it’s pure gossip, no matter what I’m saying. Gossipers would never have the courage to say to the person they’re talking about exactly what they’re talking about. So that tends to be my measuring stick.
It’s easy to tell who the gossipers in your life are: they always talk about other people, especially if they have unsavory or unpleasant news about them, and they seem to thrive on their reckless chatter. A “juicy tidbit” shared among friends can quickly blow up into a gossip session as well instead of a productive conversation, because well, it’s just so tempting to talk about other people behind their back (hence my guideline, which I have surely broken from time to time. I’m not perfect.).
It’s not particularly helpful that our media seems to encourage gossip, with shows like “The Kardashians” and “Jersey Shore” and “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”. These forms of total mindless entertainment capitalize on gossip and we consume it.
Why do we gossip?
Often gossipers, out of low self-esteem or low self-confidence or both, feel that they have nothing valuable to add to the conversation except this big juicy tidbit. They feel otherwise unwanted and uninvolved, and starting up gossip is a sure way to make them feel better about themselves, important, even.
That being said, there is one phrase that you can use that will stop a gossiper in their tracks every time: Why are you telling me this?
This question puts the responsibility for the statements back onto the gossiper. It also immediately disrupts any motive the gossiper may have that is self-serving. And finally, it lets them know that you have no interest at all in being involved in this conversation.
Gossipers are not fans of this question: it causes them to have to face their motives. As they flounder for an answer, you can gently say, “I don’t really want to be involved,” or “Maybe you should talk to him/her about this.”
As psychologists say: refrain from starting any dialogue that about a person that they would likely be hurt by – emotionally or otherwise.