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How to Stop Gossiping

Photo by Satu Knape
It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people's business. ~Dolley Madison

A few months ago I was speaking to my husband about a friend of ours who had made a purchase we thought was misguided. We spoke at great length, giving our opinion on why we thought it was a bad decision and questioning his judgment.

I remember feeling a little uncomfortable and a bit sad afterward. I felt upset, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

A day or two later, my 30 Day Challenge group posed its usual question: What’s your challenge for next month? Immediately my heart said, Stop gossiping.

I balked at this; I got a little defensive even. I didn’t gossip! That was the kind of thing reserved for petty high school girls with nothing better to do. That wasn’t me. That’s not a real challenge.

But my heart reminded me of the conversation about my friend. Would I have told him all the things I said to my husband?

Probably not, I admitted. And there was more. I did gossip. Not a lot, but not a little either. And each time I felt kinda icky afterward. As a friend of mine said, gossip always hurts someone, and oftentimes it’s the one telling the stories.

So I decided to take the challenge my heart presented me with, and I’ve learned a few things that help steer the conversation away from unnecessary words and keep my heart and head in harmony.

1. Define what gossip means to you

Recognizing the behavior you want to avoid is key.We’ve all got our thresholds of what we consider inappropriate banter, and what’s right for one person may not be right for you.

There’s the traditional rule: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. A friend of a friend said that any discussion of someone while they aren’t around, even positive comments, made them uncomfortable.

I decided that if I wouldn’t want the person to hear me say it, then it probably shouldn’t come out of my mouth. Remember, when making this distinction it’s all about your personal harmony.

2. Redirect conversation

Changing the subject has been the easiest way for me to avoid talking behind someone’s back. If possible, connect the dialogue to something similar; it makes it less obvious.

When someone privately ridiculed a person for the clothes they were wearing, I commented on odd fashion trends I’d seen. The flow moved away from negative chatter. Generally gossip isn’t so pressing that a person will go back to the conversation after it’s been steered away.

3. Stay quiet

Silence is definitely not my strong suit, but I noticed other people use this tool as an excellent way to quash gossip.

When I brought up the status of a mutual friend’s relationship, the person I was speaking with didn’t respond. He simply kept quiet and continued driving.

I wasn’t asking a direct question so it wasn’t rude, but it was terribly effective. I guess there’s a reason for the phrase silence is golden. It’s something I’m striving to adopt.

4. Empathize with the subject of gossip.

Make it about you or the person you’re talking with.Nothing stops negative back-talk faster than recalling your own flaws. We’ve all got them.

If I can put myself into someone’s shoes, everything becomes more personal — more real. The hurtful words don’t just go into the air; they land and create real feelings I can witness, right then and there.

5. Call it what it is.

This is my last resort, because it can be really uncomfortable for everyone involved. But if the other techniques haven’t worked, this one definitely will.

While chatting on the phone, I ended up having to tell a friend “I’m trying to stop gossiping.” I felt so sheepish, but the conversation wouldn’t stop turning in that direction.

I was afraid she was going to take offense or think I was a goody-two-shoes. What happened next was so wonderful: Our discussion moved to the origins of gossip and how easy it was to fall into the trap of talking about others.

Parting Words: Practice, not Perfection.

None of us are going to eliminate petty banter from our lives. We’re imperfect beings, and often times things happen outside of our control. Such is the nature of our world.

There are times when I’d sit up at night scolding myself for how I let myself get sucked into the grapevine. Then I remember that only a few months ago I was blissfully unaware of it, so I must be making positive progress.

The whole point of gossiping less is to feel better and less unhappy. Holding yourself to the standard of perfection will only cause more sadness, so just be proud that you are practicing. As my piano teacher said, “Practice makes better.”

The beauty of gossip is that is gives us a window into our own insecurities. So, while we can try to be vigilant in our quest to avoid negative talk about others, when it does happen, we can use it as a tool to gain insight on where our own weak spots are.

The more we understand ourselves, the less we need to make things about someone else, and the more at peace we all will be.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. After realizing optimism doesn't jive with journalism, she left newspaper to use her writing to help others. Now she coaches folks using writing as a tool. Balance and mindfulness are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks.

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9 thoughts on How to Stop Gossiping

  1. That you for the good advice

  2. Leia

    Great article! I caught myself gossiping to another friend of my friend’s martial problems yesterday, even though, what I said was the fact but I still felt awful afterward. I came to realized it was not my position to disclose my friend’s marital problems.

  3. I really needed to read this.

    I feel pretty crappy now. Ha! But in a good way like I’m going to be a better person now kinda way :)

  4. Hey Olivia! None of us are perfect, at all. Use these tips to HELP you, not make you feel guilty. We’re all works in progress :)

  5. Gossip just doesn’t feel right. I like to steer a conversation in another direction if someone (even a family member) begins to gossip. Quite frankly, I don’t need to know who did what to whom. Or who is doing what. TMI! Plus, gossip has a way of coming back to you. I’m reminded of Joel Osteen’s words from one of his sermons, “If you’re talking about them, don’t worry, they’re probably talking about you.”

    Gossip is low energy, a low vibration. I know we’ve all done it (I have in the past), but try to remember that what you put out to the universe will come back to bite you.

  6. Rachel

    This is an article everyone should read, and specifically women. Not to say that men don’t gossip too, but I feel like women tend to be even more critical when it comes to evaluating people because it is in our nature. The questions we should ask ourselves is: Is what I’m saying benefitting the person in any way? Is it helping me or others? What does this “small talk” do to better someone’s life?
    However, for me, I do believe that there is a difference between “discussing an issue” and “gossiping”. For example, I often talk to my mom about problems that are going on with my friends. With this, I don’t think it is considered “gossiping” as much as trying to discover a solution.

  7. Thanks for the compliments ladies!

    Amandah, thank you for saying that gossip is a low vibration! I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is that I feel and I think you may have done it for me :)

    Rachel, I really like your point about asking whether what I’m saying benefits anyone, including myself. You’re right. There are times when discussing an issue to find a solution is really what’s going on. I guess the big emphasis is on intention.

  8. All i can say is, Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.

  9. Sharon

    I really needed this. Unfortunately I’m caught up in hurting someones feelings when I should have kept quiet. They called me out on it and I feel awful. I have since apologized but I can’t take back the fact that I was so catty. All I want to do is crawl under a rock. Hopefully in the future I’ll be a bit wiser with my words.

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