Over a decade ago, I wrote this after a hard experience in the equestrian world. But toxic gossip is everywhere, including the workplace, not only in a niche sports activity. Today, I tidied it up a bit to touch on bullying. The topic of bullying is getting much needed attention—gossip & relational aggression are aspects of bullying, especially among adult women.
I love ending the day with a quiet, meditative ride on my Arabian mare. A few steps into our ride one evening, we stopped abruptly. A snake was in our path. Thinking it nearly dead, I dismounted and gingerly picked up the snake with a pitchfork. The snake began writhing around the prongs of the pitchfork, his little forked tongue flicking in and out.
I had been thinking about gossip.
Speaking with a forked tongue. The snake in the grass.
Perhaps I need to define what I mean by gossip. I do not mean remarking upon how lovely a friend looked today.
Rather, I am talking about the hurtful words we say behind someone’s back. Negative stories about others which are repeated, then blown out of proportion. Confidences broken. Judgments proclaimed. Critical opinions spouted. The snarky comments, the rolled eyes. The stirring of the pot. Shaming & blaming the target. Outright maliciousness.
There are some who claim that gossip is harmless & that talking about others creates a connection between the gossipers and reinforces socially appropriate behavior.
I disagree. Gossip is not benign. Gossip is bullying.
We all know that someone who talks badly about someone to us, will also gossip about us behind our backs. When we are honest with ourselves, we admit we do not feel “clean” after a session of gossip.
Gossip lends a false “intimacy”—however, talking about others is not genuine connection or authenticity.
We do not respect a person who gossips, even as we participate in gossip ourselves, even if only by listening.
We excuse gossiping by telling ourselves the target doesn’t know about it, so they won’t be hurt. But the truth is, the person eventually understands the vibe is off. Someone slips and says something. The victim feels the cold shoulder, the sudden silence as they enter a room. They hear the newly critical tone of voice, observe the lack of eye contact, perceive the dismissiveness, the lack of empathy. The target always knows.
Gossip creates a triangle, with the purveyor of the malicious gossip in the position of power.
Being the target of gossip is painful.
Gossip is a way to avoid our own uncomfortable feelings of shame and unworthiness, by projecting them onto the person we malign.
We get caught up in gossip when we are insecure, when we are steeped in shame, when we seek control.
Gossip is a way to gain power over others.
Gossip is relational aggression. And worse.
Gossip can be a vicious & intentional means to damage or destroy someone.
We all desire a safe, non-judgmental friend who respects our confidences. When we become that person, we will attract others to us.
We earn respect and cultivate deep friendships when we become known as a person who shuns gossip and maintains discretion & confidentiality.
I have stepped back from women who engage in gossip. I don’t want to be around people who badmouth others, and am much happier in gossip-free environments.
I have been deeply hurt by gossip and bullying.
And yet, I recently caught myself saying something unkind and unnecessary about someone. At the time, I did not feel good about myself. We all have more work to do to banish gossip from our lives.
How do we stop gossip? Especially when criticizing others may be a strong element of a social environment?
Here are some steps we can take to stop gossiping:
• Begin by setting our intention to stop participating in gossip.
• Be direct. State we are not comfortable with the conversation. Silence is acquiescence.
• Change the subject. Erect a “Wall of Pleasant”. Sometimes this works, but often, the gossiper is intent on venting her opinion.
• Offer a voice of support and compassion for the target of the gossip. Often, the victim of gossip is in a vulnerable place in her life, and the gossipers are piling on and bullying.
• Walk away. Find something positive and peaceful to do.
• Avoid those who habitually engage in gossip. Sometimes that means stepping back from friends who live in a social culture of gossip. Make new friends who share our values.
• Look within at our own motivation for engaging in gossip. Ask ourselves the hard, uncomfortable questions:
• What are our real motives for repeating the gossip?
• Are we feeling insecure?
• Are we holding onto resentment?
• Has our self care taken a back seat? Do we need to say “No” more often?
• Are we addicted to approval? Trying to belong?
• Are we driven by envy or an addiction to power and control?
• Are we participating in bullying, even unwittingly?
• Is there something darker & perhaps unconscious at play?
• Are we generating a false sense of self esteem by going one up and sitting in judgement of another person? Our toxic culture sadly encourages this.
• Are we trying to avoid experiencing shame?
• Are we shifting our own shame and our belief in our own unworthiness onto someone else?
• Are we gossiping about someone who has hurt us to even the score? It’s easy to get caught with this one, if we are not especially mindful.
• Embrace our own intrinsic Self Worth. Believe we are enough. Because we are.
• Most importantly, cultivate empathy and compassion–beginning with ourselves. Cultivate & practice Mindful Self Compassion.
• And then, practice empathy & compassion towards others.
I know I feel better about myself—and my self respect gets a huge boost—when I choose to travel the high road and avoid gossip—and those who participate in it 🖤.
Great article from workplace perspective—to the point!
Of related interest—
Bullying in Equestrian Sports.
Bullying & Nursing.
Please refer to Disclaimer page. Link posted for information only—does not provide legal or other advice.