A little bit of gossip may be healthy when its purpose is to spread good news, to gain insight, or to protect a friend from harm. However, when spreading rumors only serves to get attention or malign someone, it brings everyone down and often indicates that the gossiper is not comfortable in his or her own skin.
When you feel yourself being lured into malicious gossip, spurring the perpetrator on with curiosity, agreement, and questions can lead to a conversation that will make you feel uncharitable and mean-spirited afterwards. Here are some ways to handle the conversation:
1. Change the Subject: “How’s your work going?” This is the easiest way to handle gossip.
2. Devil’s Advocate: “Let’s take a look at it from Jane’s side.” People who gossip are often used to getting others’ attention and agreement. They might be taken aback, and stop, if you defend the person being slandered.
3. Innuendo: “Let’s talk about something more positive and decide what we’re going to do this afternoon.” These statements imply disapproval, but are softened with an alternative topic of discussion.
4. Direct: “I feel uncomfortable listening to negative judgments and rumors about people unless we’re trying to help them.” This is direct and can be said to people who can handle honest criticism, or when gossip is particularly malicious.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD