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Live Life Fully: Gossip hard to resist, but often leads to hurt

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gossip is tempting. We hear things about people all the time. But where do you draw the line between normal curiosity and being part of the rumor mill?

Most of us have been the subject of gossip at some point in our lives, and we've all felt the sting of humiliation that goes along with it.

On the other hand, we've all done some gossiping of our own, and we may have hurt someone's feelings as a result.

Most gossip comes from fear, anger or jealousy. The perpetrator wants agreement and validation from others. The burden, then, falls on the listener. And you always have a choice. Reminds me of the quote, "All that's necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

A lot of gossip tends to take place in the workplace. The American Psychological Association has conducted research on the need of employees to vent to co-workers. Even though it can create a toxic environment, gossip has actually been shown to be a bonding tool -- yikes!

And therein lies the danger. Before you know it, this venom takes on a life of its own and can start to define the culture.

Gossiping is the coward's way of expressing anger. To put someone else down to make yourself feel superior is a giant red flag for insecurity. As my husband, John, always reminds me, "Consider the source."

The gossiper is likely, in time, to feel bad about themselves, according to author Kristin Hutchings. Gossip only offers temporary gratification. It's not long before the gossiper begins to feel the negative effects on their self-esteem, which may call for the cycle of gossip to repeat in order for that adrenaline rush to continue.

Go on a gossip-free diet

So, what can be done about this? Can one person actually make a difference? With time and repetition, the answer is yes.

  • Watch out for patterns. Don't put yourself in risky situations.
  • Stop gossip in its tracks. Don't take the bait. Make it known you won't listen to gossip or spread it.
  • Be courageous and stand your ground. Walk away if you have to. Throw in a question or a comment about the subject that turns the gossip on its head.
  • Take a "no gossip" pledge. Build on the popularity of current movements -- the "no texting while driving pledge," for example -- and hold each other accountable. The group may be skeptical at first. You'll need to create a new pattern for dealing with this dynamic.
  • After all, we teach people how to treat us. And the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you've taught the group you'll keep the gossip game going, it's going to take demonstration after demonstration of the new behavior before you can be effective.

    Gossips need supportive listeners -- and are unlikely to continue if their gossip and point of view is being challenged. Don't feed the vampire!

    Toolbox for not talking

    Here are some helpful phrases you can use, drawn from employee assistance programs:

  • "I don't think talking about the problems Sue is having behind her back is going to help her."
  • "As Sue's friends/co-workers, I think we should come up with better ways to support her instead of talking about her."
  • "I know my feelings would be hurt if I knew my friends/co-workers were talking about my personal problems and spreading things around."
  • Talk about a showstopper! And that's exactly what's needed.

    Step onto the "sorry-go-round" at your own risk, cautions the website www.selfgrowth.com. When you take delight in others' misfortunes, you're actually setting yourself up for misfortune. Buddhists would call this karma, while physicists might explain it as energy responding to energy.

    If you're investing your energy into talking crap, you've immediately reduced the time and energy available to do the really important things you need to do today. And how many of us complain we simply don't have enough hours in the day?

    The rewards

  • When you remove yourself from gossipy situations, the gossips will eventually go somewhere else.
  • You'll feel so much better in time, having removed that sense of betrayal and guilt you feel after indulging.
  • A lot of drama and stress will be eliminated from your life.
  • Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301 or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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