Before you think, "Gossip, who me? Never!" Think again.
Everyone gossips, whether they believe they do or not. Remember when your co-worker complained about your crazy boss, and you nodded in agreement? Or when you told your friend that thing you didn't like about your other friend? Or that concerned conversation you had about a friend's drinking habits -- but the conversation wasn't directly with them?
That's gossip, alright. And we're all guilty as charged.
In the world of social crimes -- picking your nose in public or eating someone else's lunch at work -- gossip seems more of a misdemeanor, or at least a petty offense. What's so terrible about airing your grievances once in awhile, or confiding in a friend?
More than you would think. Understanding the true nature of gossip will change the dynamic of your friendships, your business relationships, and even time-tested bonds within your own family. Caring about it will change YOU, and the way you relate to and communicate with everyone in your life.
IT STARTS INNOCENTLY ENOUGH.
Most people don't gossip with the intention of outrightly trashing their unsuspecting subject. Typically, it goes something like this: Someone or something offends you, and you're not cool with it. Maybe you have every right to be upset. Your boss chewed you out for being late yesterday, and she strolled in at noon all last week. Your friend is back together with that loser who broke her heart, after crying on your shoulder all summer. Your sister promised to help out with planning the birthday party, but has been AWOL all week and left you to do the heavy lifting.
And you're right, none of those things are okay. But instead of bravely confronting the offender, we go underground and collect evidence to support our theory that this person messed up. We petition others and form a little support group that agrees with us. Maybe we hear, "oh my god, she did the same thing to me!" or, "I cannot believe he said that to you!" or "what a jerk!"
Just so we're clear, that's not getting advice, or venting. It's gossip. For it not to be gossip, you'd need to be addressing a person capable of taking action to solve the problem -- the Problem Causer, or their boss. Emoting or complaining does not count as an action toward solving the problem.
You might still be thinking, So? And? It's not my place to confront my boss. My lovesick friend can't take criticism. My sister's always been flaky with plans.
But consider this: Instead of having the courage and grace to speak your mind about something that was obviously important to you, you didn't deal straight. Instead, you went door-to-door behind their back, and convinced others to agree with your negative opinion. And chances are, you're telling your version of what happened, which likely leaves out room for their experience.
WHAT IF YOU CONSIDERED THAT THIS BEHAVIOR WAS A FORM OF MANIPULATION?
Straight up: If you gossip, you're manipulating your listeners. You're not alone! We have found that the underlying reason people do this is out of fear -- of confrontation, of the truth, of dealing, basically. No one benefits from this cowardly set up. People gossip because of fear. When you let go of that fear, you give yourself the chance to be the example of leadership and authenticity. You can make a list of promises around this that will bring a tremendous amount of integrity to your relationships -- there's a great Method you can learn to do just that!
But when it comes to gossip, that's just one head of the hydra.
What about when you're on the other end? What if you're a captive member of the audience, listening to some juicy tidbit vented in earnest by a frustrated friend? Or worse, what if you're in a social situation where gossip is the main source of conversation? What if you're with family, discussing intimacies you already know about each other?
INNOCENT BYSTANDERS, YOU ARE GUILTY TOO.
In my family, it used to go like this: My mom would get upset because of something one of my siblings did. My sister Lauren might go a few days without answering her phone or responding to emails, and instead of dealing with it (which would mean waiting for Lauren to call back, admitting there was an issue, and then scheduling a time to talk it over) Mom would get the grapevine going. She'd call me and say, "Lauren hasn't picked up in days, and she knows full well that Dad's not feeling well. I can't imagine what's more important to her right now." Then I'd call my other sister and share what I heard. "Just got off the phone with Mom, Dad's sick and Lauren's MIA again... typical her!"
Can you see what the issue is here? Nobody is dealing with the actual problem. The whole family is up in arms about Lauren's "bad" behavior and she has no idea that she did anything wrong. In fact, she lost her phone and was at the Apple store getting a new one! It's more than just a lapse in communication. We're all validating a negative theory about Lauren without giving her a chance to explain.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Everyone blames the office, the co-worker, the sister, the mother, the OTHER. No one wants to take credit for the real crime -- which is using gossip to get off the hook for dealing with a problem YOU don't like.
Gossip, whether it's coming at you or coming from you, has a toxic effect. It strips you of your power to change what you don't like. It undermines your true, heartfelt intentions. And it damages the relationships that are most important to you.
When you listen to gossip about someone, you internalize it and keep it as a file in your brain. Every time thereafter when you see that person, you'll think about that piece of gossip, and it will change how you feel about them, and how you treat them. It will color your judgment of them and alter your relationship dynamic. It makes your relationship a little less genuine, a little more fake.
Gossip is starting to sound more dangerous indeed!
WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE?
We've got to learn to grow a pair, and have what we call a hard conversation. I know, it sounds scary, but it's not impossible. It's immediately effective, and it gets easier to do with practice. We've come up with a Difficult Conversations Checklist that you can literally read point by point during any difficult conversation -- with nearly miraculous results.
How do I know? Because I've used it to coach thousands of executives, and I've never once gotten anyone fired. I've taught these steps to organizations, families, and couples, and have seen it work on every level. And I use it myself -- even with my own mom!
If you want to show up in your relationships -- in your LIFE -- in a radically authentic way, you can start by changing your relationship to gossip. Instead of avoiding, manipulating, gathering evidence, lying, and blaming -- you can address problems head on and take responsibility for fixing them. Essentially, it's practicing the art of being true to yourself.
And when you practice that enough, and LIVE by it, you'll be able to move mountains, make magic, and create the better world you want to live in.
P.S. If you're ready to affect changes like this across all areas of your life, register for our 12-week Design Your Life Telecourse and start consciously designing the life of your dreams, as the best version of yourself. You can expect challenges, epiphanies, and profound permanent shifts that will rock your world from the ground up. Sign up for a free 30 minute coaching call and see for yourself how it works.