Why people gossip and how to avoid it
Gossip is an unconstrained and often derogatory conversation about other people and can involve betraying confidence and spreading sensitive information or hurtful judgments.
Research shows that people who gossip the most have very high levels of anxiety. They are generally not particularly popular because they cannot be trusted. Spreading private information or negative judgments is painful to others and reflects poorly on the gossiper.
Why do people gossip?
- To feel superior
People who don’t feel good about themselves temporarily feel better when they judge others negatively.
- Out of boredom
When people can’t generate interesting discussions based on knowledge or ideas, gossip can arouse people’s interest.
- Out of envy
People gossip in order to hurt those whose popularity, talents, or lifestyle they envy.
- To feel like part of the group
People gossip to feel as though they belong to the group. Yet, when acceptance is based on being “in on a secret,” it is not based on a person’s identity, but on exclusion or maliciousness.
- For attention
A person gets to be the center of attention temporarily while divulging a piece of gossip. Yet, spreading gossip or rumors is like buying attention; it’s temporary and has little foundation.
- Out of anger or unhappiness
A person can derive a sense of retribution with disparaging remarks.
Is it always wrong to talk about others?
Most people have a natural curiosity about what’s going on among people in the community. Some of the best books are biographies that tell the life stories of other people. However, the best biographies give the reader an understanding of the nuance and complexity of the person’s character through facts. They are not based on one-sided, offensive judgments of the person.
The key is to look at one’s intent in discussing other people and relationships.
Is the intent to understand human nature and improve one’s quality of life and relationships?
Or: Is the intent to temporarily feel superior or get attention by disparaging others?
Responses to unwelcome gossip:
Let’s suppose that somebody is gossiping mercilessly about Jane. It’s important not to feed the gossiper with curiosity, agreement and further questions. It’s best to simply change the subject. Here are some other possible responses:
“I notice that you talk about Jane a lot. I’m curious why she interests you so much?”
“Let’s take a look at it from Jane’s side.”
“I am more interested in what you are up to.”
“Let’s talk about something more positive or decide what we’re going to do this afternoon.”
“I feel uncomfortable listening to negative judgments about people unless we figure out how to help them.”
Gossiping shows others the gossiper’s insecurity and meanspiritedness. It also leaves everyone involved feeling as though they’ve just eaten a bad apple. Ultimately, insight into the intricacies of human relations and behavior is more interesting, uplifting, and enlightening than one-dimensional judgments and rumors.
Reprinted with permission.
Dr. Poulsen is on Medium