How to Distinguish Harmless From Malicious Gossip

Talking about other people is natural. Sometimes though, talking about others brings everyone down. How do we distinguish harmless from malicious gossip? And why do people partake in malicious gossip?

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “How To Respond To Malicious Gossip.”

Read “Gossip vs. Honesty: ‘It is better to be honest and realistic than to pretend everyone is such an angel when they are not.'”

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8 thoughts on “How to Distinguish Harmless From Malicious Gossip

  1. Gabrielle

    Hi I am in a little bit of trouble from talking about someone but I didn’t say anything mean or rude about the person. I was asking what class she was in and I told someone what school she came from (I didn’t realise that she had left her previous school because she was being bullied) and her mother is offended by this. Was I wrong to say that?

    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      It sure does not sound as though you did something wrong to me.

      I do think that people are often too sensitive. Sometimes parents thrive on their child having victim status and on their own role of protecting them. Over-protection often backfires. When kids are mollycoddled, they remain weak and thin-skinned. A little teasing actually often results in a child developing skills to cope with the real world.

      Of course there are real bullies who can be extremely cruel, and most parents would and should get defensive and want to take action if their child is being continuously humiliated, threatened or harmed.

      As a parent it is a tricky fine line to allow the child to fend for him or herself when teased or mildly bullied in order to grow stronger, while making sure the child is not in serious psychological or physical danger. Thus, I would have some empathy for the parent despite her apparent over-reaction.

      You might say you intended no harm and leave it at that.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

  2. whywerescrewed

    Hi Alison, I like that you are discussing the difference between harmless and malicious gossip and took the time to make a video about it! That said, I notice almost all of the actors in your video are women. Perhaps this is because these are people who agreed to be in it, but it appears from this video that people who gossip are typically women.

    1. Alison Post author

      Hi, Thanks for your comment. You are right, I didn’t mean to intend anything by having more women than men in my gossip video. I did have one man in my video, and am recently having more luck finding men friends who are willing and able to act in my videos.

      By the way, in my recent videos on rudeness and getting your partner to help you, the actors playing the rude individuals happened to be men in both cases. But that was also accidental. Both men and women are known to be rude or gossip maliciously on occasion. I will try to be more balanced.

      Thanks!

  3. Bird

    This is so helpful. I am a grad student attending a program with a heavy gossip climate. Now that I am really getting tired of it, your videos came in handy. Thank you for the tips on learning how to deal with malicious gossip. Also, helped to distinguish malicious gossip from harmless.

  4. Bird

    This is so helpful. I am a grad student in a gossip climate in my program. Thank you for the tips on learning how to deal with malicious gossip. Also, helped to distinguish malicious gossip from harmless.

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