plum blossoms

The Hidden Cost of Gossip

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ImageI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people in my life that I don’t want to spend time with. Usually, I just think “not right now” and move on. But I’ve been giving this more time lately because I’ve had a brush with a well-known gossip in one of my social groups.

Whenever we talk about another person, particularly if that discussion includes negativity, we’re gossiping. It’s a standard bonding technique, particularly when there are groups of people with a common bond. At one job, I had a co-worker who loved to spread bad news and disrupt us all by catastrophizing about new assignments, new policies, new work plans, and of course, the evil boss. I finally had to explain that I didn’t enjoy this type of discussion, and the co-worker was pretty surprised. She had no idea that I didn’t like these discussions because I hadn’t done much to discourage them.

At first, I had engaged in the discussions as a willing participant, concerned about everything too. But after each discussion, I felt unhappy and negative about everything without knowing why. Finally, I began to associate our gossipy negativity-fests, with the way I disliked everything in my life that followed.  I finally understood this when, several years ago, I stumbled upon Sonia Choquette’s book, Trust Your Vibes at Work. The book was good, but I particularly recall the discussion about the “negative vibe generator.” I realized that the gossipy bonding discussions about policies and people that were driving us to misery were not inspiring us to overcome, persevere, or try harder. They cultured a desire to wallow in self-pity, judgment of others, and just pure ugliness. And if we believed that no one else knew or felt the ugliness we generated, we deceived ourselves. They might not have overheard us, but on an intuitive level, they knew.

Recently, I had an encounter with someone I know who was “concerned” about the decisions being made by someone we both know. Although they genuinely did not understand what would drive our friend to behave the way he did, I did not feel the right to explain his logic. I had inside information and didn’t want to share it, but I also didn’t want one friend to think poorly of another. If I explained what was going on, maybe she would understand the wisdom he was showing, or at least think he was less bone-headed. What to do? As I started to justify my friend’s decision, I realized that the discussion would be gossip, and I wanted to preserve the integrity of my friendships more than promote bonding with someone like this. In the end, all I said was I had faith in our mutual friend and his decisions. To discuss anything more would be to betray a confidence. My friend left our discussion looking a little confused – it hadn’t turned out the way she had expected, but integrity felt pretty good to me.

And as for the truly vicious gossip that started me thinking about this? I avoid her like the plague. I hear her cruel and one-sided analysis of other people and their lives, and I wonder what she says about me. She thinks she is being “honest,” but she is just perpetuating a very limited point of view about circumstances about which she has insufficient information. Above all, she is judging someone and encouraging me to do the same. Then I have to wonder how often I’m like that….


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