Have you ever found yourself in the middle of “small talk” that takes a turn to “targeted talk?” Where an individual or a group is now the focus of “comparison, entertainment, revenge, assumptions?” This is a quick turnaround from conversation to negative gossip.
Wikipedia defines gossip as "idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It has a reputation for the introduction of errors into the information transmitted."
I define gossip as "spreading around other people’s misery." Either way, the result is usually not positive for either the "target", or for the ones talking. And, with gossip, there is no "self-defense" because the third party is not present!
Please understand that not all sharing of information about another is negative. In many cases it can identify a source of need. It can be a form of social bonding. It can even positively influence an opinion. A challenge is that for many the "chit chat" of gossip-words has become a form of "background noise," nothing more than idle chatter, therefore assuming it has no real impact. In fact, gossip can be so prevalent that some people do it without realizing it. It is merely conversation filler until something more important comes up, or until they get called to account.
Here's the problem: the people talking may be transmitting information as though it were fact, but they've not confirmed the information as factual. And often, the speaker's body language or tone of voice suggests a moral judgment about the person or the behavior meaning "My position is superior to the one we're talking about."
Dr. Beverly Smallwood (www.drbevsmallwood.com) from the Hope Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is a psychologist and member of my master mind group. She studied, and then wrote about this thing called “gossip.” In her work she determined reasons why people gossip. Here are the top two.
- The first is to experience a perverted form of entertainment.
We're surrounded by a world of competition, a world of winners and losers. With gossip we get the satisfaction of "calling the race and being the winner!" Dr. Smallwood says, "We have a thirst for latest; an excitement of being among the first to know; and then there's the thrill of passing it on." Who wants to give up that "adrenaline rush?"
- The second is to feel better about one self by comparison.
We create false feelings of superiority, smugness and vindication when it's based on the misfortunes of others. The underlying premise is that we can build ourselves up by bringing others down.
Instead, please consider this positive option. If you find yourself in the midst of a "gossip conversation" I suggest you "take your turn"…only this time, be the catalyst of positive change.
Here's a sample conversation:
They: = "Have you heard….? (They've just shared their tidbit of information and opinion.)
You = "Gosh! Where'd you hear that?"
They = "The coffee shop." "The church basement." "From Doris."
You = "Do you suppose that's true?" (Notice you're not accusing them of lying, but in effect you are indicating they expressed a belief, an opinion, and others may have with a different opinion.)
They = "Oh yes, it's true." (Then you continue with one of these three options.)
1. You = "Gosh, if it's true, how can we help them?" (This is usually a conversation stopper. The intent of the "gossipers" may not be to "help"…but just to "talk." Or, it might start a new thought pattern with some good ideas, changing the conversation to one of help and hope, not judgment and superiority.)
2. You = "I'm curious about this. Would you be willing to share your resource or documentation with me?" (You're teaching the need to be factual and credible.)
3. You = "Gosh it seems like they have a lot of worries and problems without us spreading it around." (Then immediately change the subject – weather, kids, crops, food, fun, etc.
Turning a conversation from "targeted talk" to small talk or even helpful talk is an admirable characteristic of confident women, leaders and achievers. It has the potential to build up all involved, not tear a person down.
Next time you find yourself in the midst of a "chit-chat" ask yourself, "Am I helpful or hurtful?" Then act like a leader, and make a positive difference.