“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.
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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.