On the outside, gossiping seems harmless. What’s a little joke or story here and there about someone else? Sharing stories and having a good laugh helps us bond with each other. And when we’re feeling slighted by someone, having a go-to person who will listen to us complain and validate our feelings is healthy, or so they say.
But there’s a line, and gossiping most definitely crosses it. Just like we need to stop bonding over negative self talk, we need to stop bonding over gossip.
Gossip: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
Like any bad habit, gossiping is one we think we don’t really take part in, until we’ve realized we’ve said or heard too much. And usually we only realize we’ve said or heard too much when we get that unpleasant pang of guild. And we never, ever, ever feel good about ourselves afterwards. And yet it’s so hard to stop. Here are four ways to break this bad behavior.
1. Attempt to go all day without initiating or taking part in conversations that involve other people who aren’t a part of the conversation. Imagine how you would feel if somewhere right now two people – or even a large group of people – we discussing something you did or said. Or worse – something you shared with one person in confidence. No one likes being the one talked about, so unless you’re planning a surprise party or the conversation is strictly professional/innocent (and you definitely know the difference), keep conversations focused on what matters.
- If you find it hard to refrain from sharing the “Oh my gosh, did you hear what Becky did today” or “I have to tell you what my coworker did yesterday” statements, do the old trick of tying a string around your finger. A string on the finger is supposed to be a reminder of something to remember for later. Even a string around your wrist could be just the constant reminder you need that there is a bad habit you are trying to break. Or maybe you need to find or invest in something a little more subtle – a new ring, perhaps – that reminds you every time you look down or feel it that you are working on a new behavior.
When others begin going down the dark road of whispering about others (or texting or IM’ing, have a ready-to-go phrase that politely announces that you won’t take part and don’t really want to listen, either. Even harmlessly listening associates you with the gossip-spreader, and that’s a position you never want to be in. Remain neutral and it will not go unnoticed. So your phrase could be, “I’m trying very hard to not say things about other people. It makes me feel like a mean girl when I do.” Take it one step farther by saying, “Please help me break this bad habit. We’ll help each other!” You may get a look, but you’ll be bringing to light the fact that the gossiping is actually an immature behavior, and no one will want to be thought of as immature. Eventually, you may help each other convert to only saying good, productive things about others, and you’ll be respected for that.
Reward yourself for positive behavior when you do go the full day without gossiping. Just like a milkshake promised to you after cleaning your room or a TV show you were allowed to watch after eating your vegetables, rewards work on big kids, too. Think of it as this: when you remain a descent person who treats everyone equally and fairly and does no harm to others, even if the “harm” is gossip, you should feel really good about yourself. Indulge in the feel-goods with something that’s a treat to you: coffee from a special café, a new nail polish, a movie marathon night instead of house cleaning.
You may still be wondering, why is it such a big deal. Consider this: all the people you enjoy the most are the ones who you trust. A gossip is not someone you can trust. They’ll gossip to you and you think you’re such buds, and when they turn around they’re doing it with someone else about you. Further, the people we respect the most are the ones we see as being kind. Kind people simply don’t want to put others down or make them look bad. They just don’t. Just remember, it’s never good to gossip because quite frankly, you’re not qualified to speak about someone else just as they’re not qualified to speak about you.