I’ve been thinking about gossip lately.
The other day, I taught an etiquette class to a mom and her delightful 8 year old daughter. One of the topics I covered was gossip. When I teach it, I have my kids squeeze some toothpaste out of a tube onto a plate and then I ask them to try to put the toothpaste back into the tube. They usually struggle to get it back in and that’s when I say gossip is like toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube. Once it’s out you can’t take it back.
An acquaintance I know has a tendency to gossip a lot about others. She shares negative things both about her friends, family and people she doesn’t know well. The first few times she gossiped with me it didn’t bother me too much. But, when it became a regular occurrence I started to get annoyed. Not only do I not like hearing negative things about others, I also assume if she is talking to me about others she is probably gossiping about me as well. Because of this I don’t feel I can really trust her.
I’m not going to say I’ve never gossiped. I have had my share of dishing. But, I try not to do it because I dislike when others gossip with me. When I catch myself dishing about someone, it’s often because I’m feeling insecure about something, and I blather to make myself feel better. Keeping this in mind, when I find myself gossiping I try to look at what’s making me feel apprehensive, and then work through it rather than denigrate the other person.
Does that mean we should never gossip? No, sometimes it’s helpful to share information about others. For example, many years ago I was interviewing for a job, and in my research I talked to a friend who knew the company very well and was friends with some of the employees. I asked my friend to find out about the position and the person I would report to. It turns out the hiring manager had been accused of sexual harassment by several employees. I was so glad I learned that fact before I continued pursuing the job.
Also, neutral or positive gossip can help people bond. In the workplace, it can help you feel connected to your coworkers. You might share facts about projects or colleagues, but stay away from malicious, negative information. Not only does it make you look bad, it makes you feel bad about yourself, according to research by Jennifer Cole and Hannah Scrivener.
So, occasionally gossip can be useful. Most times though it is a useless, hurtful practice that harms both the gossiper and his or her targets.
How do you feel about gossip?
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