When you sense that news is turning into Schadenfreude—feeling happy about someone else’s misfortune—then it is time to take action and change the direction of the conversation or terminate your involvement completely.
When faced with gossipmongering, you can:
1. Change the subject: Steer the conversation in the direction of the gossiper. “How’s your work going?” “How’s your husband doing?”
2. Use humor: Humor is a great way to deflect prying questions. Keep a positive, light-hearted attitude and suggest that nobody is perfect.
3. Empathize with the victim: “Let’s take a look at it from his 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.
4. Insinuate a light reprimand: “Let’s talk about something more positive and decide what we’re going to do this afternoon.” Such a statement implies disapproval, but is softened with an alternative topic of discussion.
5. Be direct: “I feel uncomfortable enjoying someone else’s adversity. Let’s not gossip 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.
6. Avoid the gossiper: As a last resort, if you can’t stop immature or malicious gossip, avoid the gossiper all together.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD