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You’re Gossiping and You Don’t Even Know It


People say all the time “I never gossip” but unfortunately many of them are mistaken. 

They do participate in gossip, they just don’t realize it. 

Because we think of gossiping as “telling” secrets we’ve heard; but there’s more to it than that. 

To listen to gossip is to participate in gossip. 


Because when you listen to gossip you create a clearing and an environment for an emotional person to propagate their story. 

In other words you give a gossiper an audience. And that invites and encourages them to continue talking about whatever it is that they are talking about. 

Listening to gossip will at minimum make the person feel more validated and at most fan their flame to share even more. 

Because it’s hard to listen to gossip and not be agreeable and supportive of the person you’re listening to. It’s human nature to want to empathize with another person- especially when they’re frustrated or complaining. 

But by doing that you become an active member of the gossip crowd. You are advancing what is being said. 

So how do you know if what you are listening to is gossip?

Simple: Gossip is anything even remotely negative being said about a person who isn’t there. 

The moment someone you are talking to starts talking negative about another person you have immediately crossed into the gossip zone. 

And remember if you’re listening to gossip then you are participating in gossip. 

So how should you respond?

Also simple: You interrupt the person as quickly and politely yet firmly as possible and say “Hey, hopefully you don’t mind but I actually made a resolution this year that I would not talk negatively about or listen to negative talk about someone who isn’t in the room with me. I do want to support you and be a good friend though and the biggest thing I’ve learned that helps is to go talk directly with ________. I think that would probably help.”

This of course is simple but not easy. 

And yes you may lose some friends over this. And the ones you lose will probably be vocal about you being on your high horse because misery loves company and misery often gets angry when their company moves on and leaves them alone. 

But it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, the person who isn’t there, and the person who is frustrated. 

Because, as Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

  • Ze’ev Smason

    You imply an important point, Rory; gossip that is negative should be avoided even when the gossip might be factual. All the more so, when the gossip is false and thus slanderous. A second point: From one perspective, listening to gossip is worse than gossiping; the gossiper may have an axe to grind against the victim, whereas the listener is participating just to hear something negative. Also, without the listener, there can be no gossip. In terms of dealing with a gossiper, Rory, I’ve found that an initial approach of just changing the subject is better than being direct. Many gossipers get the subtle message that I don’t want to participate in such a conversation, and are allowed to extricate themselves without too much egg on their face. A question I’d like to see addressed in another essay is: Are there ever circumstances when it’s OK to say something negative about someone? Let’s say, for example, that someone applying to work for you or is dating a close relative of yours, and I know that they’re withholding information that I think you should know. I love your essays, Rory. Thanks.

  • Thanks Ze’ev. Your last question is a great one! For me personally, I actually don’t give people advice unless they ask for it. That’s probably why I just broadcast so much general advice to no specific person at all. 🙂 Kind of ironic I suppose because I don’t give unsolicited advice in my life at all. In fact many times I’ll write an article giving advice to someone I know but who never asked me.