Did you know that women speak an average of 20,000 words a day? That doesn’t really surprise me; in fact, my daily average is probably double that! But to put it in perspective, men speak an average of 7,000 words each day. So it’s pretty clear that as women, we connect by communicating.
But we can probably admit that all of that “communicating” isn’t always positive. Sometimes it’s concern, sometimes it’s judgement, and sometimes it’s just straight up gossip. Often we don’t even realize we are doing it. A good reminder is how Dave Ramsey defines gossip. He says, “Gossip is saying anything negative about another person to someone who can’t do anything about it.”
Of course we don’t set out to talk badly about someone else (I hope!). It can start out by expressing “concern” about the way someone else is living their life, or hearing about someone else’s hardship.
“Did you hear that Susie quit her job?”
“Yup, and apparently she doesn’t even have another one lined up. I don’t know how she expects to pay her bills . . . ”
Trust me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. It feels like we’re connecting over some juicy news and sharing secrets, but friends, I’m going to call it what it is: gossip. Gossip is not only hurting our relationships but it’s damaging our own credibility, trustworthiness and reputation.
The other day I ran into an old friend at the grocery store. After playing catch-up on each other’s lives, she changed the topic to another one of our mutual friends and said, “Can you believe so-and-so just bought that expensive, new high-rise condo downtown? I saw on Zillow where it was sold for $500,000! And it doesn’t seem very conducive to raising that new baby. I mean how are they even going to let the dog out to pee?”
It would be so easy to join in on the gossip, but Proverbs 16:28 says that “gossip separates close friends.” Even if it makes us feel closer in the moment, we are actually undermining relationships. We damage our relationships with the person we gossip about AND the person we gossip with. As Dave Ramsey says in EntreLeadership, “Everyone knows inherently they can’t trust a gossip.”
In that moment at the store, I was very intentional about not fueling the fire. Want to know my secret for nipping it in the bud? Silence. I just stood there with a smile and waited for her to stop talking, because what I’ve learned through the years is that gossip is a two-way street.
When a gossiper puts it out there and waits for you to take the bait, they expect a certain reaction. When you don’t give it to them, they’ll feel embarrassed and move on. She even backpedaled: “Well, I guess it’s what they’ve wanted for a while now. Good for them that they can afford to do that . . . ”
Drama needs an audience. If you don’t participate, the drama will die.
It’s easier than you think to tap out of the gossip ping-pong game. I didn’t have to call her out for gossiping—all I had to do was choose not to participate. So the next time a friend starts going down that road of expressing “concern” over how someone spent her money, parented her child, or styled her hair, don’t join in. Instead, you can smile and let the silence hang for a minute. You’ll not only keep your reputation in tact, but you’ll be challenging the other person to a higher standard without saying a word.