“I kind of feel sorry for her, she’s so caught up in pettiness that she’s missing out on her own life.” I was sitting with one of my best friends outside the ballet school classroom while our daughters were in their weekly lesson, and our catching up had somehow devolved into a gossip fest. Sure, my statement was hidden under the guise of being a “concerned” friend, but let’s be honest; it was a dig. After a few minutes of swapping evidence that our acquaintance was obviously not living her best life, I looked over and realized that one of the other ballet moms who I didn’t know very well had overheard the entire exchange, and my cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. I instantly heard my words from the perspective of someone who didn’t know me, and the picture they painted wasn’t pretty. They were words that would come from someone who builds their relationships on talking negatively about others. Now who looked petty?

Why is it that even those of us who don’t consider ourselves “gossipers” can fall prey to filling the empty space in a conversation with a juicy tidbit? There’s a compulsive quality to so much of our negative talk, and I’ve found firsthand that it’s often motivated by the desire to be seen as important, or to bond with someone by comparing notes on a mutual acquaintance.

Social scientist and author Brené Brown says that we use gossip as a way to “hot wire” a connection with a friend, but that this kind of intimacy isn’t real.

She calls it “common enemy intimacy,” and it’s built on hate. It’s also a quick way to lose trust with the people we care about most. So if we know that gossip is harmful to ourselves and to others, yet it’s so difficult for many of us to resist, how can we finally rein it in once and for all? Since it’s something I’m personally trying to kick to the curb right now, I’ve been reading up on the research and taking notes. Scroll on for 3 strategies I’m practicing in my own life.

1 – Ask for accountability.

I’ve found that the simple act of sharing my no-gossip goal with others is a great way to stop it before it starts. Since gossip is a social thing (you really can’t do it in isolation), more often that not, telling your friends you’re trying not to gossip will encourage them to get on board. And then if gossip does rear it’s ugly head during your conversation, you can lightheartedly cover your ears or zip up your lips which will serve as a non-threatening reminder to nip it in the bud. You can also just stay silent and not engage with the gossip, which sends the undeniable message that you’re just not into it. What you don’t want to do is preach at or shame your friends for being too gossipy, ’cause hey – we’re each on our own journey.

2 – Recognize the root cause.

As much as we may not like to admit it, gossip is often rooted in our own insecurities or jealousy. Have you ever felt a slight thrill at hearing a piece of bad news that happened to someone who seems to live the perfect life? It’s the worst kind of internal validation, a kind of band-aid that we put on our own insecurities to make us feel better – for a minute. The negative things we say about others may also reveal specific areas of our own lives that we don’t feel good about, causing us to project this feeling onto others. For example, if I’m secretly worried that I’m not spending enough time with my kids, the dig that I make about another mom’s parenting style may just reveal my own self-doubt. If we listen to our motives, we can actually learn from them and let it be a self-revelation that spurs us to either make some changes or show ourselves some kindness.

3. Remember who it hurts the most.

You know how some days leave you feeling peaceful and content, whereas others leave you feeling unsettled when you climb into bed at night? When I looked back at some of my recent journal entries searching for a common thread, I realized that the feeling could almost always be traced right back to a conversation I’d had that day. And the funny thing is, the way that I felt about an interaction was less about what the other person said, and more about whether I showed up as the person I wanted to be. Did I make the most of an opportunity to encourage and uplift them? Did I gossip, even though it’s something I’ve vowed not to do? Remember that negative talk leaves a bad aftertaste, so let’s fill our minds, souls (and mouths) with words that will inspire and spread joy in ourselves as much as they do for the people who cross our paths.

9 comments
  1. 1
    Kelly | May 20, 2019 at 10:49 pm

    I liked your approach to this. The older we get we still don’t actually learn this lesson unfortunately, that it is something we all need to keep working on. Well said!

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | May 21, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      It’s so true – some of those lessons that we learn as kids have to keep being re-learned our entire lives!

      Reply
  2. 2
    Christian | May 21, 2019 at 9:16 am

    I have been really thinking about this lately as I am seeing this starting with my daughter (age 10!) and her girlfriends. When I over hear it I immediately try to offer the girls a different perspective and direct them to a different topic but I’m trying to find a one-on-one approach with my daughter that will stick. Providing examples of where I goofed this up as a kid seems to help her understand the lesson I’m trying to teach her, but when she is around friends I see them lapse into this kind of talk pretty easily. It’s so important for us Mommas to not raise “mean girls” and even the sweetest of girls can fall into this kind of behavior.

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | May 21, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks for this Christian – as the mother of a 7-yr-old daughter myself, your message of raising kind and empathic girls is such an important reminder for me personally. They are looking to us as the ultimate examples of how we should treat others, and I love your ideas for how to approach the issue. Your daughter is lucky to have a mama like you!

      Reply
  3. 3
    Cindy | May 21, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Your message could not have come at a better time; thank you for reminding me that I feel bad about myself when I gossip. I’m working hard to live MY best life!! Thanks, Camille!

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | May 21, 2019 at 2:08 pm

      Amazing, thank YOU Cindy! It’s so true that gossip is as damaging to us personally as it is to the people we gossip about. Good for you for filling your life and speech with positive and soul-nourishing messages!

      Reply
  4. 4
    Cathleen Hoffman | May 21, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    What a great post. Everyone has been guilty of a little gossiping, but it is a cheap thrill and one that harms the gossip as much as anyone else. It is so important to teach our children how important words are and that kindness in what we say spreads just as fast as the negative. I think kindness also sets an example that elevates the originator and can enrich the recipients of the “news” by example.

    Reply
  5. 5
    andrea | May 21, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Read about how the Bahai faith refers to backbiting. It goes even further to explain the damage to the soul

    Reply
  6. 6
    Patricia Menger | May 21, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks Camille for this post! I am
    In the same position to not want to fall into that trap of gossiping. This was a good reminder and perfect advice to think about. I always feel bad afterwards and know that it was not my to say. Also I have a daughter and definitely want to raise her to understand the bad thing with gossip and how it will only harm her more. Xo

    Reply
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