Why we gossip and what it says about us?

I want to talk about a topic that I believe many of us can relate to. And that is gossip! 

So today, I will be talking about the action of gossip. Why we do this, what effect it has on others as well as ourselves, and some things to consider next time you find yourself participating in gossip. I also want to talk about how the act of even talking about others when they are not present and how we discuss them may happen quite often just because we are in such a routine of doing it. 

Gossip seems like such a negative word right? It is because the definition of gossip is participating in a conversation about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed to be true. And more importantly, that person is typically not present. So beyond gossip, it seems like there would be different levels. You can have negative gossip and there can be positive gossip, right? An example of negative gossip would be talking about someone’s financial struggles that they had mentioned to you and now you are discussing it with someone else. While an example of positive gossip might be sharing the job promotion someone recently told you about. We can get into this mindset that as long as it is positive then it is not harmful. But the reality is that some individuals wouldn’t necessarily want their news shared with anyone that they don’t share it with first. 

Why is this important to distinguish? I believe it is important because we could be of the mindset that we are doing no harm in what we are saying so why does it matter? It really does because we don’t know what that person might think about telling certain individuals. Privacy is personal and unique to each person. 

This is a topic I don’t think any of us want to be guilty of, but the reality is, we may engage in it more often than we would like to admit. I often share topics on things that I myself can relate to. So I know I have struggled with this in my life. I have participated in conversations that I don’t feel good about afterward. I have also made an effort to do this much less. And more importantly to be aware of what I am doing, and why I am doing it. 

Some researchers argue that gossip helped our ancestors survive. For example, spreading valuable information to large social networks allowed us to sustain and grow a society. There are teachable moments and they can morally keep people in check. So it’s not always black & white. Things often aren’t all good or all bad, there is this gray in between where we need to decide whether it is a positive or negative for us personally.

So that is what I am hoping to get you thinking about today. By becoming more aware of in what ways you participate in gossip and whether you are happy with the outcome created for yourself or others?

A 2019 study posted in the Social, Psychological & Personality Science journal stated that the typical person spends 52 minutes a day gossiping. It’s just good to know this and ask yourself, where do I fall in that average? If you are honest and you recognize that you spend hours a day talking about other people it is good to know this and decide if this is good for you or not. 

So another interesting piece of this is how we are most likely to gossip. For example, the top places gossip tends to occur is in the workplace, schools, and then locations where we are among our friends and family. 

For me personally, I had a situation that has stuck with me. Many years ago when I was much younger and immature I did something that I was not proud of. I talked about someone in a public place. The person I shared that with reshared it in that same public place at a different time, and it just so happened that someone else there knew who was being talked about. Long story short, it would come to be known that I was the one that told this original story and that there was nothing positive being shared and it was quite hurtful to the person this was about. That was an impactful moment for me. Now did I refrain from ever gossiping again, no unfortunately not. But as I have matured and had children of my own, I have come to understand how unhelpful it can be and I really don’t want to be known for that.

What you really want to think about is what being a person that talks about others regularly says about you. It could just indicate that you are lonely and bored perhaps. Or it could convey that you are not happy with yourself, so you talk about others as a way to make yourself feel better. Maybe you want what others have so focusing on them changes those uncomfortable feelings for you. 

If you are going to gossip or talk about others then you must know the potential outcomes. Here are some to consider:

  1. The result of gossip in its worst form is that you hurt others. You literally bring them pain and sadness through your actions. 
  2. It can destroy friendships and divide people. 
  3. You can tear people down and erode their self-esteem. 
  4. Things that you share whether true or false can jeopardize their reputation and yours. 
  5. It degrades your character. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you engage in talking about others:

  1. Do I know if the person I am speaking about would want this shared?
  2. Would I still say this the same way if I knew they were listening?
  3. Do I know if this is 100% factual?
  4. What is the reason why I am sharing this? What energy is behind it?
  5. Was I plainly asked not to share this and to keep it in confidence?
  6. If this was being shared about me, would it bother me?
  7. Is what I am sharing rooted in negativity or positivity?
  8. Why am I even sharing this?
  9. Am I participating, sharing, or just consuming the gossip? Each has its own pitfalls. 

I want to be known as a person that builds people up rather than tearing them down. So I often catch myself before I say something because I have considered one of these questions and it recenters me in what matters to me. I also don’t want to participate in it, so depending on the scenario, I will try to change the direction of a conversation or remove myself completely. I know I have told my husband on some occasions, that I am really working on getting better about not talking about people. So being honest with others is a good way to spread this self-control mindset. 

I think an important realization, in the end, is that time spent gossiping could be spent in so many better ways. Every minute you spend gossiping could actually be spent doing something good for yourself or someone else. If you are participating in workplace gossip and you feel like doing that makes your day go faster. You could be doing other things to help improve your day? Maybe listening to some calming music, an inspiring podcast, or an audiobook? Maybe just focusing on your work so that you do it well and in a productive time frame. Then you leave your work feeling accomplished. 

Gossiping and talking about others really does become a habit. And so we just repeat what is familiar to us. Spend some time asking yourself questions about this behavior and make certain it is something you want to do and it is not just something you continue to do just because your primitive brain offers you a repetitive thought that prompts you to instigate or partake in talking about someone else.

Until next time, I send you good vibes of awareness so that you recognize behaviors that are no longer serving you and have the power to begin to change them.

The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.

Will Rogers

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