By Rebecca A. Watson
It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people’s business.—Dolley Madison
A few months ago I was speaking to my husband about a friend of ours who had made a purchase we thought was misguided. We spoke at great length, giving our opinion on why we thought it was a bad decision and questioning his judgment. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable and a bit sad afterward. I felt upset, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.
A day or two later, my 30 Day Challenge group posed its usual question: What’s your challenge for next month? Immediately my heart said, “Stop gossiping.”
I balked at this; I got a little defensive even. I didn’t gossip! That was the kind of thing reserved for petty high school girls with nothing better to do. That wasn’t me. That’s not a real challenge.
But my heart reminded me of the conversation about my friend. Would I have told him all the things I said to my husband? Probably not, I admitted. And there was more. I did gossip. Not a lot, but not a little either. And each time I felt kinda icky afterward. As a friend of mine said, gossip always hurts someone, and oftentimes it’s the one telling the stories.
So I decided to take the challenge my heart presented me with, and I’ve learned a few things that help steer the conversation away from unnecessary words and keep my heart and head in harmony.
1. Define what gossip means to you.
Recognizing the behavior you want to avoid is key. We’ve all got our thresholds of what we consider inappropriate banter, and what’s right for one person may not be right for you. There’s the traditional rule: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. A friend of a friend said that any discussion of someone while they aren’t around, even positive comments, made them uncomfortable.
I decided that if I wouldn’t want the person to hear me say it, then it probably shouldn’t come out of my mouth. Remember, when making this distinction it’s all about your personal harmony.
2. Redirect conversation.
Changing the subject has been the easiest way for me to avoid talking behind someone’s back. If possible, connect the dialogue to something similar; it makes it less obvious. When someone privately ridiculed a person for the clothes she was wearing, I commented on odd fashion trends I’d seen. The flow moved away from negative chatter. Generally, gossip isn’t so pressing that a person will go back to the conversation after it’s been steered away.
3. Stay quiet.
Silence is definitely not my strong suit, but I noticed other people use this tool as an excellent way to quash gossip. When I brought up the status of a mutual friend’s relationship, the person I was speaking with didn’t respond. He simply kept quiet and continued driving. I wasn’t asking a direct question so it wasn’t rude, but it was terribly effective. I guess there’s a reason for the phrase, “Silence is golden.” It’s something I’m striving to adopt.
4. Empathize with the subject of gossip.
Make it about you or the person you’re talking with. Nothing stops negative backtalk faster than recalling your own flaws. We’ve all got them.
If I can put myself into someone’s shoes, everything becomes more personal—more real. The hurtful words don’t just go into the air; they land and create real feelings I can witness, right then and there.
5. Call it what it is.
This is my last resort because it can be really uncomfortable for everyone involved. But if the other techniques haven’t worked, this one definitely will. While chatting on the phone, I ended up having to tell a friend, “I’m trying to stop gossiping.” I felt so sheepish, but the conversation wouldn’t stop turning in that direction.
I was afraid she was going to take offense or think I was a goody-two-shoes. What happened next was so wonderful: Our discussion moved to the origins of gossip and how easy it was to fall into the trap of talking about others.
Parting Words: Practice, not Perfection.
None of us will totally eliminate petty banter from our lives. We’re imperfect beings, and often times things happen outside of our control. Such is the nature of our world.
There are times when I’d sit up at night scolding myself for how I let myself get sucked into the grapevine. Then I remember that only a few months ago I was blissfully unaware of it, so I must be making positive progress.
The whole point of gossiping less is to feel better and increase happiness.
Holding yourself to the standard of perfection will only cause sadness, so just be proud that you are practicing. As my piano teacher said, “Practice makes better.”
The beauty of gossip is that is gives us a window into our own insecurities. So, while we can try to be vigilant in our quest to avoid negative talk about others, when it does happen, we can use it as a tool to gain insight on where our own weak spots are.
The more we understand ourselves, the less we need to make things about someone else, and the more at peace we all will be.
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.