For the purpose of this post, "gossiping" involves discussing other people's personal stories, talking negatively about others behind their back, repeating sensitive matters shared in confidence and engaging in other potentially damaging conversations about people who are not present. To me, it's also participating passively by listening to others engaging in gossip.
Gossiping is devastating to all relationships, both professional and personal. The negative energy created during these conversations not only affects the subject(s) of the gossip, but also everyone who participates in the gossip.
Why is gossip such a negative activity that must be stopped?
- Gossip is the creation of negative energy and we definitely don't need more negative energy; we need more positive energy.
- Gossip trains us to think of people negatively and to judge them, rather than focusing on their basic goodness first.
- Gossip robs people who are being talked about of their freedom to decide whether they want to share their private stories, and of their right to present their facts in their own way.
- Over time, gossip participants unconsciously start distrusting the others taking part in it because it's only a matter of time until the gossipers do to them what they are doing to the people they are gossiping about.
- It's a complete waste of time and energy. Who has time for gossip when it's already hard to fit enough sleep, proper diet, exercise, mindfulness practice and productive conversations in a normal day?
Now, the problem with gossip is that it's highly addictive once the habit has been started. We're instinctually drawn to starting gossip or to passively listening to it (way of getting attention from others, feeling better about oneself, being entertained, etc) because like every other addiction, it has a numbing effect on our own feelings and it distracts us from our own pain and self-judgement.
Nevertheless, if we want to continue to expand ourselves by developing our nervous sytem in a positive way, and if we want to build healthy and trusting relationships with others, we must learn to say NO to gossip, no matter how hard it can be to stop something that feels good in the moment.
Are you now convinced that you must stop participating in gossip?
If yes, here are a few ideas to get started on your "No Gossip" rule:
1. At the end of your morning practice, set the intention to refrain from starting or participating in gossip. Every single effort starts with a clear and precise intention.
2. At the end of each day, as you review how your day went, ask yourself about whether you started or participated in gossip. Over time, your self-reflection will turn into an ability to catch yourself in the act and stop. With a bit more practice, you'll be able to refrain from starting it or participating in it in the first place. As you make progress, do your best to suspend self-judgement and simply aim at making baby steps towards your intention.
3. If you find yourself part of a group gossip, simply excuse yourself and leave the conversation. It's a great time to take a bathroom break! Alternatively, if it looks like there is a conflict to resolve, respectfully suggest that all people involved in the conflict meet together and talk it out with everyone present.
4. If you find yourself in a one-on-one conversation where your conversation partner starts gossiping about someone else, gently try to change the topic and if this fails, politely interrupt them and ask them if they know for sure that the person they are talking about has agreed to their personal facts being shared.
5. If you must talk about someone else who is not present, for example as part of a work-related review/assessment meeting, talk about the person by imagining that they are present in the room and listening to what you are saying about them. Would they hear you talk about them in humanizing and nuanced ways? When listening to your negative feedback, would they hear you mention these as areas of growth with a possibility of evolution? Would they hear you mention what's good about them too? Practice talking about other people in the same way that you would like them to talk about you, especially when there is a negative assessment to make.
6. When there is a benefit in sharing someone's story with others for learning/teaching purposes, anonymize the story and its subjects. Only discuss the relevant information and completely omit identifying features, so that the subject keeps their privacy while the lessons can be shared and learned.
Refraining from gossip is a powerful practice to do for yourself and for others. It builds the ability of your mind to be fair and nuanced, and it keeps your relationships healthy and grounded in trust.
Relationships between people who say NO to gossip are healthier, happier and safer.