How To Respond To Malicious Gossip

Click on the picture below to watch the short video:

Malicious gossip is negative and brings everyone down. This video includes several examples of ways to respond to someone rumor mongering and gossiping maliciously.

Malicious gossip can involve maligning another person and making hurtful negative judgments or the spreading of sensitive or confidential information. If you gossip a lot, you will attract other people who like to spread rumors and thus don’t have much of interest going on in their lives. Distorting information, talking “dirt”, and bringing other people down will affect your life negatively.

How do you respond to unwelcome gossip?

First of all, you don’t want to encourage gossip with curiosity and further questions. Nor is it necessary to become overly hostile and angry at the gossiper.

1. You can have empathy for the person being gossiped about. Take the other person’s side and show compassion.

2. Respond with humor.

3. Change the subject.

4. Turn the tables and focus your attention on the gossiper and what’s going on in his or her life. For example, “You seem to want to talk about who Susie is sleeping with. How about we talk about who you’re sleeping with!”

5. Be direct. Say you’re uncomfortable talking negatively about other people.

6. Finally, you can avoid persistent gossipers and leave.

While harmless gossip is fine, malicious gossip is not inspiring and does not enhance people’s lives. Freeing yourself from malicious gossip will give you more time to enjoy life or to talk about more interesting subjects.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Watch “How to distinguish between harmless and malicious gossip”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Distinguishing Harmless from Malicious Gossip.”

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18 thoughts on “How To Respond To Malicious Gossip

  1. carriew

    Gossip is never funny. It ruins people’s lives, names and happiness and causes so many domino effects that trickle down to people who don’t even know the individual and then can cause them problems in endless ways because someone else is jealous.
    People who constantly tell storied of how bad someone treated them ALWAYS sends bells and whistles going off because usually, they WANT to be victims. If their ex was that bad, then one would have to wonder why the ‘gossipier’ would even tolerate it. Most likely, the ex has worse stories to tell. It doesn’t solve anything and if someone is intent on trashing someone else, it is a ‘certainty’ that YOU do WANT to be their next VICTIM and it is only a matter of time. You will be. Victim mentality is dangerous. Once a victim, always a victim. Their territory expands because they have a ill natured tongue and a bitter spirit. Look at the other areas of their lives and relationships and You will find many, many holes.

  2. Elizabeth

    I have had to listen to gossip about other people’s lives and have been the subject of it. I have a friend who likes to talk about other people’s lives and I am totally put off by her talk about others, their issues and misfortunes. For the past few months, whenever we got together, I have had to listen to her talk about her friend’s living situation and problems this friend of hers
    is having with her boyfriend/partner. I do not know the boyfriend personally but the negative things I have heard about his behavior are second hand information at best, all based on opinions and perceptions but nothing that I have witnessed that can be confirmed. Listening to this friend gossip hits a nerve because she gossiped about me years ago. She has talked about me behind my back and spread information that resulted in a situation where one of her friends that she gossiped to sent a scathing email to me and said negative things about my character based on information that my friend provided. A few years later this same friend gossiped again about workout outfits I wore to my hairstylist (who I no longer do business with). Neither my hairstylist or friend said anything to me but I learned this from my partner who said my outfits were an issue. I got this information third hand and it resulted in misunderstandings and conflicts. I felt betrayed that I was being talked about because there was no direct or sincere communication on the part of my friend or hairstylist. If my friend had respected me she would have stayed out of it and told my stylist to discuss the issue directly with me, and my former stylist should have done what was professional by communicating her concerns to me directly. Recently this friend sent an email to my partner and to me with a link to an article titled 15 Things That You Should Give Up to Be Happy. Who dis this (now former) friend think she was to be sending advice, as if she was better than me or my partner? This was my limit and crossed boundaries into our personal lives. I do not want to have contact with this friend anymore and especially I don’t want to share aspects of my personal life or my lifestyle with her anymore. My life, that includes goals, dreams, choices, challenges and issues, will not become a conversation piece that she can discuss with others over lunch or a game of cards. I have a busy work schedule and a long commute from Monday to Friday. I have to get up at 3 A.M., drive over 1000 miles a week and want to make the best use of my time away from work to do things that I enjoy.

    1. Alison Post author

      Hi E,

      I think I already answered this in the last email you sent. But I would not think twice about spending your little free time in a more soul-nourishing way. Find things to do and new people to hang out with who are have goals, dreams and ideas that are interesting and do not involve tearing other people down.

      There is no reason to feel guilty about rejecting her and changing hair stylists. (I’m not sure that you do feel guilty, but it seems as though you stayed friends with her for quite a while after the first incident. Often it feels mean to withdraw from old friends, but it really isn’t, as long as you don’t participate in vicious gossip yourself.)

      So bravo for you to move on and honor yourself and your values, goals, and dreams. You don’t need to explain to her why you are withdrawing from her. On the other hand, if she asks, you can explain that her gossip was discouraging and not very inspiring.

      Good luck!


  3. LW

    I have enjoyed reading your columns on gossip, have been the subject of it in the past and have listened to people talk about others that include their relationship problems that involve substance abuse, money problems, health issues and domestic violence. This same person has talked about outfits I wore with my former hairstylist and commented about supplements I take. She has also made comments about my relationship with my partner and things that she thinks are lacking. Recently she sent an article on 15 things a person should give up in order to be happy. That was my limit. It’s obvious that this person like to bring up things that she thinks are wrong to feel better about herself and I will not listen to it anymore. I wake up very early, work long hours and travel 3-4 hours to and from my job. I treasure my time off and refuse to spend it listening to someone (who I don’t know and am in no position to hekp) talk about their friend’s misfortunes and issues become a conversation a game of cards on a Saturday or Sunday. I have dreams, goals and issues in my life and would prefer to not have them discussed 37th people that I really don’t know. I can’t change this person and I certainly wouldn’t email her a list of things she should change about herself but have decided to walk away from the friendship.

    1. Alison Post author


      Good for you. I think that is the best thing to do. You cannot stop others from gossiping, but you can limit or end your relationship with someone who gossips about you, and is basically not a very inspiring or interesting person. It’s definitely best not to tell someone like that anything personal about yourself. Given how much you commute and work, you should spend your free time doing what will feed your soul.

      All the best.


  4. Pamela

    Thank you for publishing this video, I realize I don’t have skills to deal with gossipers so that helps a lot. My problems seems to be chronic.
    My questions are: how to deal with a person in your life that keeps telling other people the same story over and over about this someone that hurt her 20 years ago. The people that hear the story are different. Is that a malicious talk?
    Also the same person likes to disclosure a little too much information about my life, with or without me present , to usually a group of people, friends or people we don’t know well. I know it is not a negative thing but I have requested many times to stop using me as a subject of her talks because I don’t like to be put on the spot and want to have the right to decide how much I want to share about my life to other people. For me I see it as a type of gossip but for her it is ok because we are family, and the comments are not malicious. I would appreciate to hear your thoughts on that

    1. Alison Post author

      Hi P,
      Thank you for your comment. First here are two articles I might recommend:
      “You sound like a broken record repeating stories about your psycho ex!”, and
      “Venting and Triangulation”

      So first, regarding your question about how to deal with someone who continues to vent and complain about a past incident: If she’s a good friend, it is worth it to tell her in a compassionate way that you think she is stuck and that continuing to tell the same story will not help her, and in fact keeps her from dealing with the underlying issue and moving on. Perhaps some counseling will help or simply trying to contain her resentment rather than letting it spill would be helpful. You might also gently tell her that it is boring for other people and makes others see her in an unempowered way. It takes guts to say things like that, but it can be extremely helpful if you do so with compassion. However, she may not have a strong enough sense of self to take in your observation, in which case, she will be angry and hurt, and you may have to minimize your relationship with her, at least for the time being. You can reiterate that you are not trying to be judgmental, but that you just wanted to make a helpful observation.

      The other thing you can do is to respond each time she tries to bring up the same old story as follows, “I’ve heard about that already.” And then change the subject.

      Regarding the second question about your friend disclosing too much about your life when you have asked her not to, you simply need to keep your life private from her. Everyone makes a mistake now and then, but if she is continuing to share about your life when you’ve asked her not to, you cannot trust her. I would back away and keep her as a more casual friend. Find other friends, and don’t disclose private things about yourself until you really know them. You might read my article on “Setting Boundaries.”

      Your friend basically has a problem containing her feelings when it is appropriate to do so. Don’t expect much change.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes.


  5. Binglady

    What should I do if I’ve been the subject of malicious gossip and find out only after it has been going on for months? How do I stop the bleeding?

    1. Alison Post author

      It depends on the circumstances. It would help to know more about the situation. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the gossip. Other times, it’s best to speak to one person at a time, or simply one person to find out who’s behind the gossip and to tell the person how false and hurtful it is. If you do talk to anyone about the situation, your demeanor of being calm and not at all a victim becomes very important. Bullies, which include vicious gossipers, like to attack victims, who seem weak and vulnerable. So it’s important to hide vulnerability and not show weakness or anger. More details would help. Good luck.

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