10/6/2009 4:35:00 PM Marta Adelsman Column: Gratuitous gossip
Marta Adelsman Columnist
A young man I know in Chicago (I'll call him Thomas) recently got himself into trouble. Talking with work colleagues one day, he joined in bad-mouthing their boss.
Someone among the group ratted to the boss what Thomas had said. The boss talked with Thomas - and fired him.
As I coached him, Thomas identified how "chameleon" behavior has been a pattern for him. As you may know, chameleons change their color to fit in with their background. Thomas so wanted to fit in with and be accepted by the group, that he blended himself into its tone and behavior. In doing so, he abandoned his own authenticity.
Thomas learned that most gossip comes from insecurity and self-doubt in its participants. They feel unsure about their acceptance in the group. So they gossip, which creates a false sense of belonging.
Thomas found out how false that sense of belonging can be. Participating in the gossip left him vulnerable to the back-biting of someone in the group who masqueraded as his friend, yet used Thomas's behavior against him.
Talking about people behind their back lowers your image in the eyes of your conversation partners. Yes, even if they're doing it too! Gossip reveals more about the person engaging in it than it does about the one being gossiped about. People in the gossiping group can never fully trust each other, because they know that these people are capable of gossiping about them.
When you talk with someone else about what another person needs to hear, you dilute any felt need to deliver the message to the person who will benefit from it. If you see something in another that needs improving, doesn't it make sense to talk directly with the person? Only if you do so does your criticism become constructive.
Avoid gossip at all costs. It's so insidious! On the surface it can appear harmless, yet it presents a treacherous, slippery slope for relationships.
You might say, "But if I refuse to participate in the gossip, people will think I'm weird! They'll start gossiping about me!" Yes, they may. Take the following action anyway:
Announce to your friends that it makes you uncomfortable to talk negatively about other people. Tell them that, from now on, you intend to avoid doing so. Let them know that you're choice contains no judgment of them and their behavior.
Even if your friends take it personally at first, they will have the security of knowing that you will not talk negatively about them. That has the potential for creating a true sense of belonging and friendship.
Resolve only to talk about others in expressions of appreciation and commendation. You will thus stand out against a background of deception and backbiting. You become a positive example. You can feel confident that your words will not get back to someone and hurt them. Others will respect you.