The Worst Form of Complaining: Gossip (& How To Stop)
by Live Better
"Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people."
Last week we discussed an effort to stop complaining. This week we dive into “complaining” about people…you know it as gossip.
Gossip is a potent form of complaining that has become mainstream entertainment. We have gossip columns, gossip blogs, gossip(y) television shows (e.g. most reality TV), social media gossip, etc. It is a passive, poisonous art form that some people seem to love practicing.
It’s become so insidious that we don’t even realize we do it. Take a quick review of all of your social interaction this week so far; ever discussed someone in a negative way without them in the room? That’s gossip.
Gossip negatively affects our mental health; it becomes habitual and is manipulative to our social interactions. We develop perceptions that don’t match reality, we make judgements about people we don’t know, or write off someone’s potential before they get a chance to show you their true nature.
Not a great way to foster positive social support, especially in a group setting. Person A tells Person B that Person C has done something horrible, and like the game of telephone goes by the time it gets to Person Z the original version is so warped with (irrelevant) opinion that the damage is irreparable.
Two of the biggest emotional intelligence strengths we can develop are empathy and practicing non-judgement.
First, go into a situation without judgement. Blank slate - you’re happy to be there, meeting everyone as if no current relationship link pre-exists.
Upon meeting someone new, put yourself in their shoes. Take the time to get to know them, what motivates them, what shapes them…can you better understand who they are and why they act as they do? Of course.
For some reason, gossip feels good. Whether it be because putting someone down seems to raise you up, or influencing friends or co-workers with information puts you in a positive light, people take kindly to talking about others.
Complaining about people is avoidable; we’re wasting time talking about “them” when we could be working on “us.”
It’s a waste of time. Leaving a negative (i.e. non-constructive) comment on social media (especially YouTube) is a perfect example. In a micro-context of one post, you’re suddenly so informed that you are capable of making a destructive review of someone’s wants and wishes.
In fact, I’d love to see someone who presses “Enter” on submitting a comment suddenly placed face to face with the person they are commenting on. Think they’d say the same thing? Likely not…(coward).
Consistently complain about your “horrible” boss? Quit then.
Consistently complain about your friends not treating you well? Make new ones.
Stop putting yourself in situations that predispose you to be negative. Nobody is dragging you through those office doors. Nobody is forcing you to go out on weekends with the same people.
Make your own choices, and quit whining about the consequences of your own actions.
Gossip solves nothing; there is no objective forum in which the issue is resolved or that person suddenly learns from their mistake and changes their behavior to better suit your moral framework. Learn to be constructive with your words, build people up instead of putting people down, and teach people how to treat you.
So what can we do to stop the spread of gossip?
Here are a few practical tips on controlling your complaints:
Grant everyone a second chance “benefit of the doubt.” Honestly, you’ll be less angry and skeptical if nothing else. Let them do the talking and decide for yourself.
Allow someone to show you the best version of themselves before you automatically assume the worst version. Similar to granting someone the benefit of the doubt, assume this person can offer value to your life.
Treat others how you want to be treated; would you want someone saying negative things behind your back? How is it that we dish it out so easily and yet hurt so badly when it’s done to us? We “can’t imagine” treating someone that way and then turn around and do the same. Take an honest self-review; how much do you gossip in a normal week?
Before you make a negative comment about someone, address it with them (face to face) in a judgement-free, non-confrontational manner. If you think someone negatively affects your relationships, work, etc., just ask them to share more information with you. Ask them their point of view, what they were thinking, or to hear their side of the story (i.e. practice empathy).
Forgive without forgetting. This person not your cup of tea? Great, they don’t have to be your first-born’s godparent. Just don’t associate with them. You won't become best friends with everyone, and some people (even the ones you love) will wrong you - either don't let them again or grant them a second chance.
The next time you’re in a social situation where gossip commences, keep your mouth shut and just listen (read: this is tough, especially if you have an opinion or have been hurt by something similar). Do you enjoy the conversation? Likely not, but in the moment it’s like getting a sugar fix.
It’s simply the choice to spread positive vibes or negative ones. As my brother once said, “You’re either on my vibe train or not. If not, please move out of the way ‘cause I have life to live."
Talk better, live better.