Gossip, let’s steer clear

First, a brief announcement.  For a variety of reasons, the start of my ten-week men’s counseling group has been delayed until February 1. I still have two spots available. If any of you is interested in a group of guys getting together and talking about the hard stuff, without any pressure from outside sources (e.g. your spouse,) send me an email at steve@rivercitycounseling.com.  The group will be held in Midtown Sacramento.

“Where is Jane? I haven’t seen her in a while.” “You didn’t hear? She reconnected with her high school sweetheart on Facebook and moved to Ohio.” “Wow, isn’t she married with kids?” “Yes, isn’t that terrible.” You go back to your crunches. Gossiping at the gym.

“Where is Jane? I haven’t seen her in a while.” “You didn’t hear? Her mother was just diagnosed with terminal cancer and she’s out helping her family in Ohio. She sent me a text from the airport.” “Wow, that’s terrible. Do you think we could help her husband by picking up their kids after school and play with our kids until he’s off work?” “Good idea! I’ll call him after we finish our exercises.” Genuine concern at the gym.

Obviously, the intent of the friends is different. Two friends are gossiping. Two friends are genuinely concerned. Two are just enjoying themselves, feeling pretty special because they have the “inside scoop,” and then moving on without really caring. Two also have the “inside scoop,” but are taking action in a positive direction.

Other times, it’s much less clear. You pop by your colleague’s desk and share that you heard your boss’s son is sick and went into the hospital. You talk about how terrible it must be for the family. But then you add that you know that your boss has been struggling with her kid for years. And you feel terrible. Then you go back to work. Genuine concern or gossip? Gossip.

You pop by your colleague’s desk and share that you heard that your boss’s son is sick. You talk about how terrible it must be for the family. And you feel terrible because you haven’t heard anything firsthand from her, so you can’t go and share your concerns. Instead, you stay on task and do your job. And if your boss ever shares anything directly, you sympathize. Genuine concern or gossip? Genuine concern.

I know as well as anyone how entertaining juicy gossip can be. On a variety of levels we use it to feel better about OURSELVES. Problem is that it’s mean-spirited and adds nothing positive to anybody. And in a real sense, it doesn’t help us feel better about ourselves.

I realize that there are also times when it’s difficult to tell the difference between gossip and genuine concern. My rule of thumb is that if you’re wondering if it’s gossip, it’s gossip, and you should try not to participate.

Fortunately, when we decide not to participate, we have options. In some settings, we can calmly call out a person we know. “You know, we’re gossiping. I know it’s juicy, but it’s my New Year’s resolution to try to stop.” Or when the timing is right we can try to change the subject. “Shoot, I know we’re talking about why we think John lost his job.  Shoot, I don’t know.  What I’m trying to figure out is why the Steelers lost. I thought is was their year to win the Super Bowl.”  You could also stay silent and not participate. Or you could find a subtle way to disengage and walk away. Regardless, you’re trying to avoid toxic gossip and do what’s best for all of us.

Until next time…

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