The Principles of Gossip

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Gossip is the greatest abuse and waste of time and energy. Everyone adds on his or her own personal bias, interpretation, and bitterness . Gossip is defined as: "casual conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true."

A Child's Game
When I was younger, we use to play a children's game where we all sat in a circle and one person would whisper a sentence to the next person. By the time it was repeated again to the first person, the sentence was completely different! Gossip is based on the same principle. Things said get distorted, people drop a part of the story or they add a part to the story. Or it is based on speculation or assumptions, with no facts or actual knowledge that what is being said is actually true.

As Mom Use To Say
People who spend their time finding fault or gossiping about others, are certainly not the kind of people you want as friends. Gossip is usually never the truth. And it is only one side because, as we all know, there are two sides to every story.

Those who gossip to you may also gossip about you. My Mother used to say, "If you can't say anything
positive about someone, don't say anything."

Addressed in the Bible
The Bible is full of wisdom and it also addresses the topic of gossip. It is referenced many times in the Bible. Here are just a few of the references:

They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. Psalm 41:6

A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence. Proverbs 11:13

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends. Proverbs 16:28

Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. Proverbs 26:20

Use Your Time Wisely
Gossip harms, and hurts people both directly and indirectly. We all have had some experience with it. When you are the one being gossiped about you end up feeling hurt and disillusioned with those spreading it.

And, we all, at times, have been the one who has said, "have you heard about...." We don't know the whole story but our curiosity starts us talking. Honestly, we are better off not saying anything. We should never encourage the spread of rumors through gossiping.

How do you handle the person wanting to gossip with you? Simply ask if they have proof of what they are talking about. If not, then tell them you would prefer not to discuss it. And sometimes, the other thing that will work is when someone says something, just answer, "really", and add no more, then change the subject.

Nothing productive is ever achieved as a result of spreading, or listening to gossip. Don't waste your time! You can make more productive use of it.

Whose Job Is It?
I have never seen or experienced many organizations where gossip isn't part of the day to day activities of many staff members. However, if you happen to be a supervisor or team leader, or senior staff member there are a number of things you might want to consider as an on-going methodology of diminishing gossip throughout your organization.

Bear in mind, however, although you would rather eliminate gossip altogether, understand that you cannot control every element that may or may not contribute to gossiping amongst employees.

To start with, ask yourself if you intentionally or unintentionally contribute to the gossip mill? Really, you question? Yes you can contribute without realizing you are doing it. One way that you contribute to this problem is to tolerate gossip either when you speak yourself, that is, you start spreading gossip in your conversations with other staff members, or you refrain from correcting other people when you hear it. It takes conscious effort to both refrain from instigating gossip or to correct other people who do so.

If you are hearing false information being spread throughout your area or organization, you may be indirectly contributing to the gossip mill by not providing sufficient information so that no question is left unanswered. Obviously, you cannot speak or share confidential information but you can adopt the habit if giving as much information and as clearly as possible that answers or may answer any questions that an employee may ask.

The point here is that sharing of all possible information pertinent to a topic or motivation to adopt a new policy is much better than only providing sketchy details about the 'Why' something is going to be changed or altered. The more information you leave out (without jeopardizing confidential information) the more you invite speculation, and therefore gossip, when people attempt to fill in the blanks.

In addition, if you avoid difficult or challenging conversations or subjects that you may not have an answer to, you are reinforcing a spirit of self-speculation. If you cannot answer a question that directly pertains to your organization, tell the person asking that you will find out the information and let them know.

And, here is the real trap. Don't simply ignore your promise to find out the information requested. Make it a priority to get the information, if you can, as quickly as you can and report back to the person asking the question. By doing so, you start to not only build an open relationship of trust showing that anyone can approach you to ask a question but you also demonstrate that the person asking is worthy of your attention.

As well, as was alluded to earlier, make sure that when you present information, you deal specifically with the issue and do not engage in speculation yourself. If, as a leader, you engage in speculation about a motive of your organization without actually knowing the reason for the behavior, you add to and reinforce that it is okay to speculate. Speculation leads to gossip and gossip leads to more speculation and so on. It is a never ending spiral of speculative gossip once the ball is put into play and you may be the very one who started it.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who engage in gossip because they desire to demonstrate that they have a kind of power. It is a power, in their mind, that might suggest that they have the inside track within the organization. In reality, it is often the need of the person to be seen as worthy; to be knowledgeable; to be needed. And, while this is a challenging individual to work with, and one that is often ignored, it is a very real challenge to confront. One method, as discussed previously, is to share as much pertinent information as possible about issues surrounding work related concerns, strategies, or motives of the organization. The act of sharing information should be a consistent practice not done just when gossip reaches a crescendo but as a steady diet. The reason for this sharing of information or transparency within an organization is to defeat speculation by proving facts.

Inspirational Quotes for Reflection:
"There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us."
Edward Wallis Hoch

"When you throw dirt, you lose ground."
Texan Proverb

"Two things are bad for the heart - running up stairs and running down people."
Bernard Baruch

"A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way."
John Tudor

"What some invent, the rest enlarge."
Jonathan Swift

"Rumor travels faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth."
Will Rogers

"Fire and swords are slow engines of destruction, compared to the tongue of a gossip."
Richard Steele

"There is just two important things to remember about gossip for it to be caring and not harmful to the gossiper or gossipee. First, we need to be willing to repeat whatever we are saying directly to the person and do it. And, second, there has to be absolutely no judmentalism in it. If we are not clear on these two points, then we'd better keep our mouths shut."
Anne Wilson Schaef


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