Friday, November 9, 2012

How Do You Handle Gossip?

I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. Someday soon I hope to read her follow-up book Happier At Home (which @Cloud recently reviewed here.)

One of the best takeaways from THP is the suggestion that we all stop gossiping. "Gossip" is defined as saying mean-spirited information about someone behind their back. There's also a difference between innocuous gossip and malicious gossip. Rubin has blogged about her thoughts on gossip, and also has a short video that I like.

My question for today is how do you handle gossip?

In general, I do not gossip about people IRL (I try to reserve my gossip for the anonymous internets, heh, heh). But I often struggle with how to handle myself when I suddenly find myself in the awkward position of being the unwitting audience for someone else's gossiping. This is complicated by living in a small town, where lots of people gossip and have fun doing it - and also often learn something useful.

Here's an example from last weekend at the local bar. A friend, I'll call her Gossip Girl, out of nowhere starts gossiping about another friend of ours who just had a baby and could not come out with us that evening. The things she was saying weren't very mean, but they definitely would not have been appreciated by the person who was not there.

I wish I had said something to clue Gossip Girl into the fact that she was being inappropriate, something like - "It would really hurt her feelings if she were here right now to hear you saying this." Someone else tried to give her a hint that night - "this is a very, very small town you know..." but G.G. did not pick up the cue.

The whole interaction just left a bad taste in my mouth about G.G. While I had her correctly pegged from the get-go as someone to whom I shouldn't feel safe revealing anything important, it was still a disappointing interaction. I wonder what she's saying about me!


Anonymous said...

Since I'm not on facebook I don't do a whole lot of gossiping of any kind since I'm out of the loop. (Facebook having replaced word of mouth.) Generally I stick to the good kind of gossip because that's the kind of person I am. Though I did tell a secretary today that the guy who yelled at me during a faculty meeting today obviously has dementia. Because that's the only explanation I can come up with other than he's a sexist bully and that was probably the safest way to vent my anger.

As a midwesterner, we school people who say things they shouldn't by silence, so that's my natural default when someone says anything inappropriate. (My MIL does this to me and it freaks me out.) Here in the Deep South that isn't appreciated as much, and I think silence is taken as assent, so not as effective. I also tend to verbally disagree with people if I disagree with them. People don't tend to tell me negative gossip these days, so maybe something I'm doing is working.

Cloud said...

I mostly avoid gossiping myself. It makes me feel bad about myself to gossip. When I hear negative gossip about someone else, I usually just try to change the topic.

feMOMhist said...

Sigh I'm sure I have a blog post on this because in our little academic village there is a person, who for reasons I DO grasp, has a NEED to "discuss" other people in terms that I'm sure other people would see as "malicious." It was OK, in that I could kind of deal with it, until she said something about sciDAD and I to a mutual friend and it got back to him, and then I was 'splaining my self to the spouse, and I thought "ENOUGH" so now I severely limit my interaction with her in settings that would allow such gossiping and censor myself when we are 1 on 1. It makes me sad, but we are a group of maybe 10? families in the same 'hood/uni. NO ROOM FOR dissent sowers :)

hush said...

@nicoleandmaggie - I appreciate your regional analysis and think you're spot on. I'm half Midwestern and half Southern, and just like in your example, I think my half Southern-ness precludes me from feeling good about the silent treatment though it is often a useful, well-deserved tactic.

@Cloud - It makes me feel bad, too - so I think Rubin is 100% correct that avoiding gossip ought to make folks happier.

@feMOMhist - GG is exactly that person in our circle. Has limiting your interactions with your person worked for you? Did you give the person a reason for taking a step back, or did you just start being too perpetually busy to hang out anymore?

oilangarlic said...

You know, I like to think that I avoid gossiping about people and most of the time I am too self-involved to gossip about others! Yet at the same time, I am sure that I do gossip about others and listen to gossip without too much thought, as gossiping seems to be part of human nature. I just don't think I notice or pay attention unless someone seems particularly malicious or gossips too much, if that makes sense.

hush said...

@oilandgarlic - Yes, it makes perfect sense that we really notice once the gossip starts to seem particularly malicious and/or starts to happen during every interaction - by then it has become a pattern.

In my situation, I recall two separate, one-off times when GG gossiped - then about the 3rd time she did it suddenly it became a pattern, and she began doing it every time I saw her. Clearly, I have some responsibility: I have not been providing the appropriate reactions that would put the brakes on it (such as silence, oral disagreement, subject changing, etc).