This Bonding Tool Called Gossip

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I was having one of those long, meandering, deeply satisfying conversations with a loved one last week when it suddenly took a sharp turn and we looked at each other with the same revelation:

We come from a bunch of big-time gossipers.

Both of us cringed when we realized how far back in our lineage this went! Our Nannie? She’d sit up late at night with us when Poppa went to bed and gossip about everyone in town, then move on to any family member that wasn’t present. It wasn’t nasty, just done with a hushed, “You can keep a secret, right?” tone. My Mom? For God’s sake, you didn’t tell her anything you didn’t want her to share first! Same thing. Not in a mean spirited way. I know today that she felt a warm connection when she started off with “I don’t know if you’ve heard about your brother yet, but……..” and then offered you the gift of “inside information.”

For years I continued the tradition. I feel embarrassed when I recall all the times that I shared something that was not mine to share and in turn, was hurt often by family members gossiping about me, and my life.

Maybe you’re thinking “Oh, well. Everyone gossips and families do it all the time. Who cares?”

Well, yeah. But this Relationship Coach is a stickler about two things and everyone who knows me could tell you this:

  • Don’t lie. I mean, like, don’t lie by omission or because it’s just a little white one or because you think everyone will be better off not knowing the truth. Don’t. Lie.
  • Don’t gossip. Stop talking about your friend, your family member, your colleague or your partner behind their back. Don’t talk sh*t about what they did, keep your mouth shut about what you think is going on, never trash a friend to another friend and for God’s sake, do not share exciting or bad news that is not yours to share!

How did I un-do this bad habit for myself? 

First, the hard way. By being a gossip, hurting other people and being uncomfortable at times when it came back to bite me in the ass. At 39 yrs, I had the beautiful opportunity to immerse myself in a kickass, 2 year Coach Training program which included an initial set of “homework” requiring 30 days of ZERO gossip. Period. No talking smack, no talking about cool stuff you heard about your pal, no talking about anyone else who wasn’t sitting there engaging in the conversation. They warned us that we wouldn’t have much to talk about. 

They were right.

Something in me shifted in a huge way during that period of my life and I realized how much damage was being done, not only in my own family, but in all of my client’s lives by this thing that everyone took for granted – gossiping. It was breaking down trust left and right, causing deep hurt and leaving individuals angry and protected. And these relationships, the ones they deemed most important, were taking too many hits.

Want to hear something wild, though? Besides the obvious downside of gossiping, one of the things completely misunderstood about talking behind another’s back, is that it creates a sense of “emotional connection” between those two people. Since we are all longing for a feeling of intimacy with others, many people use this as the quickest way to “bond” with another person.  It’s sort of the “me and you against them” thing.

Even more fascinating? Another important way individuals use “trash talking” another person is in an attempt to soothe their own rising fears. When a person is concerned that someone might be upset with them, has something they need to discuss, or is scared about being judged, gossip can be used to “test the waters” to see where things stand. In other words, “Are we ‘Ok’ enough that you’ll get the attention off me and get the focus onto someone else, or are you going to remain cool and disconnected?” It also gets used in an attempt to swing a person over to their side, (back to creating that sense of a bond!) in the hopes that it will soften whatever it was that felt like discord.

So if gossiping about others clearly tears at the fabric of our relationships, but we’re using it to get some important needs met, what then?

Creating awareness is the first step.

Watch any habitual ways you slip into gossiping for a few days, then try this: 

  • Just before you begin to mention something about another person who is not present, take a pause and ask yourself “What is my intention here in bringing this person up? Am I being kind?”
  • Before you head out into the world each morning, set an intention to speak about only yourself, your experiences and what’s interesting about your life.  Focus on two things – being more open and transparent and being a MUCH better listener to the one you’re having a conversation with.
  • If you begin to think “This is just a fun thing to share and it’s not gossip!”  (like, did you hear Coach Barb just got married!) then watch VERY carefully where that conversation begins to go after you mention it.  Any comments, opinions, discussions about that person’s personal life, choices or decisions are not your business. If it’s too hard to just share a fact about something and leave it at that, then don’t go there in the first place.
  • Try your own “30 Days of ZERO Gossip” for yourself! Tell your friends in advance what you are doing and let them know that you will politely say “I don’t want to gossip”, then shift back to asking them about themselves. Be prepared to feel like you have nothing to talk about or that you are stumbling over conversations as you try to make sure you stay on track!

I can honestly say that while I’m certainly not perfect at never engaging in conversations that end up in some form of gossip, taking this stand has truly changed my life. My clients have told me that this practice, along with learning to set swift “boundaries” with others when the need arises has taken them from a drama filled life to a drama free one.

I’m all about “freedom” with a capital F.  How about you?