Any time people get together—at work, at school, with friends, with family—it’s easy to bond over the latest buzz because gossip is all about groups; who’s in and who’s out. Almost everyone pulls their chair a little closer when there’s juicy tea to spill, even though gossiping as a personality trait is universally frowned upon.
Humans have chosen not to mind their own business for centuries—in fact, researchers say gossiping has been essential to advancing our society—but what starts out as innocent chit chat about other people’s personal lives can veer into a destructive habit if you’re not careful with the information you share.
If you’re drawn to the meaner side of conversation and notice yourself dishing dirt with an air of judgement or salaciousness, it’s not too late to correct your behavior. Or, if you find yourself being roped into conversations centered on rumor and hearsay, it’s possible to shut these conversations down with grace. We asked etiquette experts, business coaches, authors, and therapists about how to nip this unpleasant habit in the bud. Here’s what they said. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Understand What Makes Your Inner Rumormonger Tick
Is gossip a form of venting that helps you release pressure? If so, stick to talking about yourself, rather than gossiping about other people. Is it a way of asking for help? If so, frame it as, “I’m really struggling with Bruce, do you have any ideas for how I could deal with him more effectively?” Are you bored and gossiping to add a little excitement to your day? If so, pick a positive and constructive topic. Talk with your colleagues about upcoming projects or events that you’re looking forward to. Are you gossiping to win friends and influence people? It might seem like this is working, but it will eventually erode your credibility and popularity rather than enhance it. Instead of gossiping, contribute something useful to people. Perhaps provide positive feedback or offer to help with a project they’re working on. - Liane Davey, Ph.D., author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done
Set Boundaries and Get Positive
I find that many people, especially those who are kind and compassionate, simply never learn how to set healthy boundaries. They play the role of “good listener," but unintentionally get roped into drama. If this sounds like you, it’s important to learn how to set limits with passive aggressive people who gossip and to develop more assertiveness skills so you can excuse yourself when gossip starts to happen. Intentions do matter. Instead of harping on negativity in your conversations, focus on positive gossip. Make it a point to say nice things about people behind their back. Recognize other people for their good traits. Applaud their efforts. Celebrate their successes. You’ll find that the good vibes come back around to you, too. - Melody Wilding, licensed social worker and coach
Be Mindful and Buddy Up
If you find yourself gossiping frequently, you should THINK:
T: is it true?
H: is it helpful or hurtful?
I: is it inspiring or negative? If it inspires others in a positive way, then it could be deemed as good gossip. However, if it's negative and could potentially hurt someone else, then it's deemed as negative gossip and that's when you should refrain from doing it.
N: is it necessary you tell other people about this thing that you've heard?
K: is it kind to share this information with people who may or may not know the person you're gossiping about?
If you're concerned about gossiping, you know you have a problem. Perhaps write down your goals every day: I will not gossip, I will not lie, etc. Have an accountability partner. Ask a friend who you trust to hold you accountable every time you gossip, to call you out on it in a nice, private way, so you are aware of when you're doing it and how frequently you're doing it. - Jacqueline Whitmore, Business Etiquette Expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach
Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes
Ask yourself how you would feel if one of your friends or coworkers was gossiping about you at a restaurant or in the conference room at work and you heard about it later. Probably pretty uncomfortable or upset! Because gossip may start based upon a little truth and it usually grows into a big falsehood. Decide to substitute gossip as a guilty pleasure for another guilty pleasure that doesn’t impact other people negatively, such as eating ice cream once a week or buying that coveted jumpsuit. - Julie Jansen, author and career coach
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.