It’s show season in North America and I am having lots of conversations with a wide range of people playing various games with animal partners about how to be their best selves in the ring and at the show site. There is lots of gossip flying around and sometimes people leave an event more concerned with a comment they heard, or shared, then their results.
Gossip provides an essential social glue to create connections. It creates a commonality and bond that allows us a degree of comfort in a situation which can help us relax and feel like we belong. It provides an opportunity for cultural acquisition in settings that are unfamiliar to us. Baumeister et al, posit that gossip is a form of observational learning. So gossip is important. And meaningful.
BUT, gossip can be malicious, hateful, hurtful and divisive as well. Understanding its intended purpose will help you (and me!) avoid falling into those traps that make us feel so uncomfortable; “I shouldn’t have said that”, “What if they talk about me like that when I’m not there”, “Why was I so quick to say something” and so on. You got this. And I’ve got you.
Beyond making some participants feel badly there are very legitimate reasons to find other ways to connect socially with groups. Remember that game of broken telephone? Gossip can get changed just as easily as a whispered statement making a round of a circle if it is passed outside of its origin. Gossip can be false, it can take wings of its own and becoming very damaging. Participating in something that ends up destroying someone else’s reputation will NOT reflect well on you. Alienating friends and ruining reputations is not worth feeling a little bit of connection to a group.
Connections can be built through tending and befriending – a much more proactive approach to relationship building.
I hear you … “OK, Andrea that’s all fine and well but how do I avoid gossip? What do I do when I find myself in a gossip circle?” You always ask me such good questions. And this one I prepared for … I have four reminders for you to contemplate every time you think about participating in, or starting gossip.
Not your circus, not your monkey
Now, I have to be honest I don’t love this expression, but in this context it provides an important touchstone in a few different directions. Whatever the cause of the gossip is, it is not your concern. Imagine for a moment how you would feel hearing this about your best friend, or yourself. If you get that icky feeling in the pit of your stomach it’s quite ok to say “this conversation makes me uncomfortable” but if that feels too difficult as you start this path to less gossip it’s also fine to exit the conversation quietly.
If you are tempted to start discussing someone else remind yourself that their issues belong to them and you can find, and use, another social glue. Complimenting someone in the group (“Your last run was so smooth”), asking a sincere question (“Would you get another golden retriever?”) or chatting about the weather (wait, that might just be a Canadian thing) are all alternatives to making someone else’s business yours.
Hurt People, hurt people
I’ve said it before -and I’m sure I’ll say it again but if you are working to figure out why someone is gossiping remember hurt people hurt people and you will give yourself grace to let go of seeking answers to unanswerable questions. You likely don’t know the past history, you are unaware of what others have said about the participants in this sesh of gossip. You just don’t know. So, move on. If you have been hurt seek other solutions (see the link above for specific ideas if you are feeling like a victim) and don’t fall prey to the desire to hurt others.
(I’ll remind you – gossip – even if you never think it will get beyond the immediate circle it is shared in – hurts people. It hurts the target, it hurts the listener and ultimately it will hurt you if you participate).
People Do Their Best
The people being gossiped about are doing their best. They didn’t wake up in the morning and think “there is nothing I want more than to be the target of gossip today – what can I mess up to make sure that happens?”. The people gossiping are doing their best. It might not be a very glorious best but it is their best in that moment. Perhaps they are feeling insecure and need some social glue, perhaps they grew up in a way that gossip is easier for them than kindness in the face of stress.
These things mean you also can do your best. Which means not gossiping. It may mean noting the damage the gossip does; it may mean stating something kind, thoughtful or diverting; it may mean gracefully exiting the conversation. If you are not as successful as you want in these things remember that you are doing your best. That will look different with more practice.
If you engage in gossip then realize it you can change the trajectory of the conversation – so do. Don’t use getting lured into gossiping become an excuse to gossip more.
When we know better we can do better
The group engaging in gossip may not realize they are problematic. They may have such a long history of gossip they barely hear themselves. But if you have started noticing it you can do better. You can model for them – no matter if you are explicit or not.
If all else fails – put a tinfoil hat on – either literally or metaphorically! Protect yourself from being a participant in gossip. You cannot control other people but you can control yourself.
You have power, truly and honestly. You get to choose how you respond to gossip you hear and how/if you add to the conversation. Hit your internal pause button and be proactive not reactive as you move into the conversations that ebb and flow around you.
Been awhile since I’ve blogged – apologies … if you want to know more about what I am up to check my website – lots of free stuff, nearly always a class or webinar coming up and also lots of things you can join anytime! As always please share this with anyone who might find it helpful. See you soon!