My wife and I sat eating brunch in a crowded restaurant. Loud conversations bounced all around us. We ate in silence while soaking up some of the gossip that filled the air.
“Did you hear Sherman Moses retired?” I heard from one corner.
Another voice from the same table added a juicy tidbit, “Yeah, I heard that he got caught “retiring” a young hottie in his office, if you know what I mean…”
Directly in front of me, a guy asked, “What about David?” between mouthfuls of pancake. “Could he pick up an extra shift?”
His breakfast partner answered with a “Phhhht!” sound followed by, “I doubt it. He’s a lush. If he showed for work at all, he’d be half in the bag.”
I leaned in across the table and said quietly to my wife,
“People gossip a lot.”
She nodded and kept eating. I leaned back and took another bite. Then I leaned forward again, and I motioned for her to do the same.
The two of us met midway between my scrambled eggs and her fruit cup. Then, looking both ways before I continued, I lowered my voice and asked, “Do you know who I think is a big, fat gossip?”
And yes, for just a moment, the irony was lost on me.
What is gossip?
You are gossiping when you spread information, misinformation, or disinformation about a person or a situations that is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
Information can be true and factual. Misinformation is usually information that is incomplete, either accidentally or intentionally so. And disinformation is news that is patently, intentionally false.
It doesn’t matter if what you hear is true, like “Sherman Moses retired”. Or if what you hear is conjuncture, like “Sherman Moses had an affair”. Unless you are Sherman Moses, the spouse of Sherman Moses, or the alleged co-adulterer of Sherman Moses, it’s really none of your business. If you find yourself at a table where this is the topic of conversation, you are in the presence of gossip. And, by association, that makes you a gossip.
Why do people gossip?
Do you know what these monkeys are doing? This is known as social grooming, a ritual that is key to bonding, reinforcing social structures, knitting together family units, and even a part of reconciliation and conflict resolution.
In the wild, monkeys conduct this social grooming ritual for a practical purpose, too. Grooming and cleaning one another removes small pieces of dirt, bugs, or even super-small bug eggs like nits. In the picture, these baboons are nit-picking. Literally, the one baboon is picking nits off the other.
When a person gossips, what he’s really doing is nit-picking. And a gossiper gossips for many of the same reasons as our more hairy cousins:
- to feel like an insider within the group;
- to get attention;
- to demonstrate power within a group;
- to bury the hatchet with one person (albeit by sticking it in the back of another); and
- to partake in a social ritual that bonds friends together while keeping enemies out.
Your response to gossip
Here are three tips to keeping gossiping and nit-picking to a minimum in your world:
1. Focus on what is true AND positive.
Think about the most embarrassing event in your life, like the time you laughed so hard in 5th grade that you wet your pants in front of your classmates. Fast forward to your eulogy:
“He was a loving husband, kind father, helpful coworker…and, of course, a one-time pants wetter.”
Do you want people talking about you at your worst? Is that how you wish to be defined forever, PANTS WETTER etched on your granite tombstone?
Make the standard of what holds your focus higher than truthfulness. Add to truthfulness the concept of positivity and edification.
2. Practice a No-Gossip Policy.
Dave Ramsey has a zero-tolerance policy on gossip, because he knows that when one person tears down any member of the team, the entire team takes a hit. But you don’t have to be the owner of your company to institute your own NO-GOSSIP policy. Commit to not spreading gossip, and just as importantly, not to listen to gossip.
If you don’t want to appear to be holier-than-thou, say something like, “I’d like to stay, but I got to get back to work.” Or if gossip starts after you are in a social setting, be the voice for what’s right by saying, “When I hear stuff like this, it’s more often false than it is right. I’m going to wait and read the biography before I believe any of this!”
3. Be the “good” gossip.
Know that any word that escapes your lips will be shared, embellished, attributed to you, and then used against you some day.
If people are going to talk, give them something GOOD to talk about. Be known as the person who says things like those listed below behind the backs of others:
- “Did you hear about Amy? She closed another account. If her sales record were a baseball stat, she’s be batting a thousand!”
- “I just heard that Tony has been offered a promotion. I’ve always said that Tony would go places. I’m so proud of him!”
- “Jamie just told me that she got engaged! I couldn’t be more excited. She deserves all of the happiness in the world!”
Do you know what would happen if those words got back to Amy, Tony, and Jamie? They’d love you, and if they weren’t loyal to you before, they’d becomes some of your biggest fans.
When you hear people talking around you, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I part of the problem?
- Am I part of the solution?
- Is this information going to make me a better person? A better employee? A better friend?
- Would I want others to be having this conversation about me behind my back?
If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then you use your pie-hole to eat some pie rather than get involved with idle gossip.