Why People Gossip and How to Avoid it

"Allegretto" by Mimi Stuart ©

Why people gossip and how to avoid it

Gossip is unconstrained and often derogatory conversation about other people, and can involve betraying a confidence and spreading sensitive information or hurtful judgments.

Research shows that people who gossip the most have very high levels of anxiety. They are generally not particularly popular because they cannot be trusted. Spreading private information or negative judgments is painful to others and reflects poorly on the gossiper.

Why do people gossip?

•  To feel superior

People who don’t feel good about themselves temporarily feel better when they judge others negatively.

•  Out of boredom

When people can’t generate interesting discussions based on knowledge or ideas, gossip can rouse people’s interest.

•  Out of envy

People gossip in order to hurt those whose popularity, talents, or lifestyle they envy.

•  To feel like part of the group

People gossip to feel as though they belong to the group. Yet, when acceptance is based on being “in on a secret,” it is not based on a person’s identity, but on exclusion or maliciousness.

•  For attention

A person gets to be the center of attention temporarily while divulging a piece of gossip. Yet, spreading gossip or rumors is like buying attention; it’s temporary and has little foundation.

• Out of anger or unhappiness

A person can derive a sense of retribution with disparaging remarks.

Is it always wrong to talk about others?

Most people have a natural curiosity about what’s going on among people in the community. Some of the best books are biographies that tell the life stories of other people. However, the best biographies give the reader an understanding of the nuance and complexity of the person’s character through facts. They are not based on one-sided, offensive judgments of the person.

The key is to look at one’s intent in discussing other people and relationships.

Is the intent to understand human nature and improve one’s quality of life and relationships?

Or: Is the intent to temporarily feel superior or get attention by disparaging others?

Responses to unwelcome gossip:

Let’s suppose that somebody is gossiping mercilessly about Jane. It’s important not to feed the gossiper with curiosity, agreement and further questions. It’s best to simply change the subject. Here are some other possible responses:

“I notice that you talk about Jane a lot. I’m curious why she interests you so much?”

“Let’s take a look at it from Jane’s side.”

“I am more interested in what you are up to.”

“Let’s talk about something more positive or decide what we’re going to do this afternoon.”

“I feel uncomfortable listening to negative judgments about people unless we figure out how to help them.”

Conclusion

Gossiping shows others the gossiper’s insecurity and meanspiritedness. It also leaves everyone involved feeling as though they’ve just eaten a bad apple. Ultimately, insight into the intricacies of human relations and behavior is more interesting, uplifting, and enlightening than one-dimensional judgments and rumors.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Dreading intrusive questions at family gatherings: ‘It’s none of your business!’”

Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Recommended Reading:

On gossip Dr. Rosnow: http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/friends/rumors/article4.html

21 Responses to Why People Gossip and How to Avoid it

  1. curiousms says:

    In my personal experience – why I googled ‘why people gossip too much’ – it’s a bunch of guys who just gossip indiscreetly about me. Of course, in their view, it’s not gossip just male bonding. I just find it so incredibly childish and stupid that a conversation I’ll have with one guy then becomes a drama when he passes it on to one of my male relatives and the HE passes it on … incredibly that people have nothing better to do with their time and have limited questioning or critical thinking abilities ….

    • Alison says:

      With such people, it can be helpful not to say anything that you wouldn’t want repeated. Until you become very close, it’s usually best to be discreet or at least diplomatic. Good luck.

  2. Paul says:

    I find most of the time its ladies who ask you lots of personal question and then they do gossip about it. I find it unpleasant. I have found in team if you have ladies co-worker then they do lot of gossip about any person. they even gossip about their own good lady colleague in her absence. I used to find it funny but now I am fed-up of their continuous negative thoughts. And hate answering them when they ask about judgement. Sometime later I found them they are totally separated; nobody wants them , nobody talks to them , nobody likes to work with them. I am sure they must be busy with gossiping :P

    • Melissa Griffin says:

      I can’t stand gossip. However, I love conversation which most women these days don’t seem to know how to do. I believe that is why most are long time singles. I have always worked with men and have always been happy at work until the economy changed and I had to take a job in an office that was 90% female. I was miserable because all they did all day was gossip. They never shut up! They felt any question they wantes to ask you was okay so I just wouldn’t respond and just leave them standing there talking to themselves. Honestly, I have no tolerance for women today. They’re needy and need an assigned therapist with them at all time cause they’re blind.

      • amanda lynn says:

        The last comment was a little bit harsh but I totally agree with both. Some stuff should just stay at home or be completely eliminated. I think women really want friends but like Melissa said, they think we want gossip. It must have been nice working alone or with some low key men. Women really could learn from other women that sometimes quiet time is okay, and positive talk. Its a hard habit to break but you can if you are conscious about it.

  3. procrasinatingpolly says:

    Thanks for clarification. Sometimes i am not gossiping, I am just curious about other people’s lives, people condemn as a gossip. A friend of mine, I want to cut off seems to think I am gossiper, when I am just worried. Yes, I will be frank and say yes that sometimes I am just too nosy or that I am gossiping. Not all talking about people behind their back is wrong. Pointing out other people’s flaws is not always wonder, either. I am pretty angry at the moment. I feel unreal to pretend everyone is just so nice and wonderful all the time. It is better to honest and realistic, then sit around and pretend everyone is such an angel when they are not.

    • Alison says:

      Thank you for your comment. I wouldn’t advocate pretending that everyone is nice and wonderful. But I find it more interesting to focus on why someone would be driven to behave in a certain way, and also to focus on situations and people who have accomplished something worthwhile. What you focus on for most of the day affects who you are and how you feel. So focusing on other people’s weaknesses without attempting to understand the intricacies that drive them can bring you down. On the other hand, focusing on more positive people, accomplishments and abilities can inspire you to improve your own life.

    • Melissa Griffin says:

      You don’t think it is odd to be curious about someone else’s life. Get a life of your own and be curious about that. It’ll only get better. I have a female who has been leaving me messages for months not to say “Hey girl was out living my life and thought about you and decided to give you a call
      and say hello”. She keeps saying she is concerned and I’m trying to figure out when I told her “A grown woman” when she needed to be concerned about me “A grown woman”. I already have a modher and she has never had to worry about me. I don’t need my friends too. I don’t need those

      forms of friendshipseeworrief

  4. whatever says:

    Hi. I have to disagree with research starting any yes or no arguments. I DO NOT GOSSIP / AND JUST BECAUSE I HAVE NO FRIENDS IS NOT AN INDICATION THAT I DO. I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS BECAUSE IT IS ALWAYS A POPULAR PAST TIME AMONG FEMALES (AND MALES) IN AMERICA. CLOSE TO FOOTBALL BY REAL MEN.

    there I said it and also companies should stop hiring gossips and people who just want to do the job and GO HOME!

  5. mira pacheco says:

    I just don’t how someone can be so nice and sweet then next thing you know spreading rumors about my oldest son, my daughter and me.. she is new in the church her boyfriend brought her or win her to church that we go.. and she even spread rumors about her boyfriend who brought her to church.. My son loves them and trusted them like his own brother and sister like a best friend but he learned that they are not what he thinks they are.. my son is hurt so bad but he wouldn’t do a thing about it.. Thank God!! and I don’t know how someone can be so sweet and seems like she can’t harm a fly.. but her mouth is like burning sulfurous… don’t even think what she says and not scared or don’t even have fear in God.. you know what I feel right now about her.. I know that Im suppose to get mad at her but what I feel right now is mercy toward her.. like what you said in your message, a gossiper never happy with themselves and they are full of jealousy.. I wonder and how can I help a person like her.. the thing is I don’t want to be around her anymore or my children.. I don’t trust her anymore.. All I can do is just pray for her.. ;)

  6. carman lopez says:

    im a victum of gossip by the mananger at my apt complex sadly none is true all but one thing im a owner of a condo…nothing big how ever it’s paid for in full…this person has went out of her way to target me and put all kinds of negative information about me through out the complex…im still asking my self why me…this person cAME ACROSS AS A NICE LADY EVERYTHING BUT NICE VERY MEAN NASTY NONE THE LESS A LIRE…SHE MADE SEVERAL COMMENTS ON MY BODY SHE SAIH ASK ME BEFORE I FOUND OUT HOW NASTY SHE IS…SORRY SHE ASK ME HOW I STAY SO FIT,, SHE ASK ME ABOUT MY JEWLARY …AND MY AGE I TOLD HER 52 THE NEXT I KNEW THIS WOMAN IS LIKE A LION THAT HAS NOT EATEN IN MONTHS…I NEVER SAID A THING TO THIS WOMAN IN A NEGATIVE WAY…SHE HAS FORBIDDEN ANY ON PROPERTY TO TALK TO ME AMONG OTHER THINGS…CAN YOU TELL ME WHY SO MUCH HATE… SORRY FOR ANY TYPOS TYPING WITH NO GLASSES…THANKS FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT IN THIS MATTER…THOS IS JUST A SMALL IDEA OF WHAT I HAVE LIVED WITH WOMAN SOMETIMES I WANT TO SELL MY PLACE JUST TO MOVE AWAY FROM HER…

    • Patricia Morgan says:

      Sounds like jealousy to me.I live in a complex for older people,I`m the younger end being in my 60s.I dress in my own way,not too young but not Grannyish either.I still wear my jewellery and have a nice hair cut,and try and keep fit walking my little dog.
      I joke with the elderly men and they do so back and others join in.Any new man to joing our compex,I found out is warned off me because they say I`m looking for another man.This is very hurtful as I have lost the last three to cancersG and heart attack.I`m happy on my own now,but enjoy a little light banter which makes most residents laugh.I think because you have some property and wear your jewellery etc,we don`t fit into the dowdy life style.Just ignore this woman,or tell her she could be had up for slander..keep looking good for yourself.

      • Alison says:

        I think there’s nothing wrong with banter and light flirtation. Life is short, we can enjoy each other in the fleeting moments we have together as long as there is mutual respect. I hope you can ignore any negativity from the person who is saying hurtful things, and continue to interact with those who appreciate you.

    • justanopinion says:

      Don’t worry, she’s probably just insecure and jealous. Lots of women are like that. Reasons could be lack of self worth, unhappy with their own life, dissatisfied with their looks/appearance, they feel ‘unlucky’ or ‘put upon’, they feel shortchanged by God or by life, or…take this – they wish they could be YOU.

      Instead of getting pissed off about this person, take comfort in the fact that 1. You’re fortunate NOT to be born to be her 2. She’s a miserable, loser and she KNOWS it.

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