Gossip: How to Protect Yourself and Others

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Gossip. We all need to know how to protect ourselves and others from it because none of us are immune, and it can stir up more trouble than a tornado. We’ve all been guilty of talking about someone who wasn’t in the room, and we’ve all been talked about behind our backs.

Some dismiss gossip as harmless chit-chat that pumps a little excitement into the air of a boring office, classroom, or anywhere there’s conversation. However, gossip is a ticking time-bomb of rumors, innuendos, half-truths, and hurtful truths. We need to stay clear of it to protect ourselves and others from its collateral damage.

~But how do we know that we’re spreading gossip instead of sharing legitimate news or concern about the other people?

~If others are spreading gossip or rumors about us, how can we stop them (whether the stories are true or not)?

~When we hear others gossiping, how can we stop them without being rude?

Actually, the answer to all three questions is, “Very easily!”

You need two things: to know the manners for protecting yourself and others from gossip, and the moral courage to do the right thing.

The manners are easy right from the start.

The courage to confront someone who’s talking behind your back, or to break up a gossip-fest among your friends, family, or coworkers, is at first hard (and scary); however, once you flex your zero-tolerance muscles a few times, others will learn you’re a gossip-free zone.

In ancient times a rumor was a “continuous, confused noise, clamor, or din.” That’s an accurate description still today. The stress on people of untruths being spread or private truths being shared about them would fill their heads with thoughts and worries more maddening than a continuous clamor of pots banging on pans.

Gossip or rumors might be true or false; either way, we’re wrong to share them. And when we do, we rob those who are the subject of the gossip.

Gossip is stealing. If false, it’s stealing their good character. If true, it’s taking away their right to privacy and ownership of their own story.

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What’s the Line Between Gossiping and Sharing News About Someone?

I read that if you’re sharing a story and you’re not part of the plot, the problem, or the solution, it’s gossip. That’s the perfect summation.

Telling someone that your mutual co-worker and her husband are considering divorce is gossip, even if the person you’re talking to knows the couple.

Asking others whether they think Tess might be pregnant, because she has come in late for work three mornings the last couple of weeks and she looks tired, is spreading rumors, even though your concern (and excitement for her!) is real.

It doesn’t matter that you’re family, sharing your concern with other family members. When Tess is ready to tell you, her mom, her father, her sisters, or anyone else that she’s expecting, she will. It’s her news to share, not yours to ponder aloud.

If the couple with the marriage problems files for divorce, it’s their announcement to make (or not). If they don’t make it, it’s not yours to take from them and announce.

If someone has shared something with you, always assume it’s in confidence. Bringing you into their inner circle means they trust you; it’s not an invitation to spread the info.

The book of Proverbs is clear on this. “A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13, MSG)

Psychologists tell us that through the act of transference, when we talk about others, the people we tell soon begin to assign those same traits to us. So, if we’re ever going to spread anything about someone, let it be a compliment!

Being a gossiper or someone who is given to tattling, idle talk, or backbiting isn’t going to win us true friends or gain us meaningful influence in the lives of others. And listening to a gossiper isn’t any better.

The book of Proverbs also speaks to this. “Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?” (Proverbs 18:8, MSG)

Words work their way into our souls. They become our thoughts. They control our beliefs. Gossip is toxic. You don’t want it in you.

If you have true concern for friends’ health or well-being, then tell them in private that you’ve been thinking of them and that you haven’t had a heart-to-heart in too long.

If they tell you something, listen to what they say, assuring them (and meaning it) that what they say won’t go any farther (unless it’s illegal or involves abuse; in both cases you have the moral and legal obligation to notify the authorities).

If they tell you everything is fine, leave it alone. If and when they want you to know, you’ll know. At this point you’re not part of the plot, the problem, or the solution. It’s your cue to drop the subject. Pray for them, and be there if they come to you.

Gossip: How to Protect Yourself and Others

Sadly, there isn’t a way to keep people from talking about you. Gossip is so prevalent that none of us are immune. However, if people know that you’re not afraid to confront the gossiper(s), you’re less likely to be a target.

And while our goal is to always be gracious, when others are gossiping or spreading rumors, the wrongdoing isn’t ours, it’s the gossipers’.

Good manners ask us to be a welcome mat, not a doormat. It’s not rude to find out the source(s) of the gossip and to confront them and the other people along the way who have spread the story.

Is it more “in your face” than most polite people are used to being? Yes. But don’t worry; rudeness isn’t necessary. Just be quick, direct and firm.

Is it necessary to maintain your good name and to set healthy boundaries? Yes.

Can you forgive, try to forget, and move on? Yes. But for now, take a step back from the person(s), even if they are relatives, until they re-earn your trust.

Here are two examples of dealing with rumor and gossip:

1. Lauren has just heard that the office scuttlebutt is that she’s being assigned to a different department because she’s secretly dating her boss. 

The story goes on to say that he arranged the transfer so that they could continue to see each other. On top of it, with the move to the new department comes a $5000-a-year raise because the job involves being responsible for multiple projects.

The thing about the rumor is that it’s true.

Still, Lauren doesn’t want others talking about her relationship or income.

There’s a lot we could agree on that’s not proper about Lauren’s and her boss’s actions (it’s against company policy to date someone in your department) and the help she received in obtaining her new position. However, co-workers talking about it instead of going through proper HR channels to file a formal complaint (not a good idea) isn’t going to change anything.

Lauren hears all of this from Jill, who tells her because she’s her friend and wants to let her know what others are saying about her.

Lauren’s first step is to respond to Jill, “I’m surprised you’d share that with me knowing that, true or not, it concerns private matters of my love life and income. I’m going to ask you not to tell anyone else. By the way, who did you hear it from?”

Jill’s taken back a bit and tells Lauren that Lee told her earlier today. Lauren’s next step is to find Lee and say the same thing to him, adding that Jill told her she heard it directly from him.

At no time does she confirm or deny the story. She goes to as many people one-on-one as she can get names for, and when asked flat out by one of them whether the rumor is true, her response is, “Why would you ask me such a thing?” She then turns and leaves.

2. Anna and Jeff’s marriage has hit a rough spot.

The stress of their high mortgage payment, his cut in income, her loss of a part-time job, the fact that their oldest child goes to college in less than two years, and their youngest child’s expensive medical issue has snuffed the romance from their relationship.

They can’t sell their house, and debt collectors have begun calling.

Anna feels trapped and lonely at home.

The only bright spot in Jeff’s day is the long talks he has with Ellen, a pretty listening ear at work. They eat their lunches side-by-side on a park bench about a quarter of a mile from the office. Jeff’s best now goes to Ellen.

Anna gets his angry “Why is our Visa card maxed out?” rant while she tries to explain she has had to buy groceries, new shoes for the boys, pay the electric bill, the vet, and other things because there wasn’t cash in the checking account.

Jeff thinks of how life would be if his wife were more like Ellen.

Jeff has spoken of Ellen on occasion. Anna wonders and worries.

She also thinks of how less stressful life would be without Jeff’s constant negativity and demands on her to stop spending money when she can’t think of a way to cut another penny.

One Tuesday afternoon when Anna is especially blue, Jen from her Bible study group calls to find out where she has been the last couple of weeks. Anna confides in her about her current situation. Jen listens, prays for her on the phone, and promises to continue to pray.

The next morning, Anna is again absent from Bible study. When it comes time for prayer requests, Jen tells the group Anna’s story so they can pray, too.

Later that afternoon, Anna receives a call from Nicole, who tells her what Jen shared in Bible study and that she’s concerned for her and will be praying.

Anna is stunned, hurt, and angry at Jen. She’d asked Jen not to share her story. If Jeff finds out (and he will), he’ll be furious. Their marriage will be further strained.

Suddenly, Anna feels that she has no church home. This one will never feel like a place of protection or peace.

While Jen thought that the more people who were praying for them, the better, she was asked to keep what she was told in confidence. Also, she wasn’t part of the plot, the problem, or the solution. It wasn’t her story to share. She turned it into gossip and was wrong to share it the way she did.

What Jen could have done is say to the group, “I know two people who are under a great deal of stress right now, and it’s negatively impacting their marriage. Would you pray for them?”

God doesn’t need names and details. He already knows them.

At the next Bible study meeting, Anna could ask and expect Jen to publicly apologize for sharing her story.

Without using Anna’s name or sharing the details of the story again, Jen could say, “Last week I shared a story as part of a prayer request. It wasn’t my story to share, and I betrayed a confidence and hurt the person. It was wrong of me, and I’m sorry. I’ve learned a lesson, and I won’t be sharing details that don’t belong to me in the future. If you’re sharing the story, I hope that you’ll stop so that my wrong won’t be further multiplied.”

I hope Anna and Jeff will return to the church.

After her public apology, Jen just gave them their best chance of going without being the subject of whispers.

Confronting the gossiper isn’t easy. But it is correct, and while some people just won’t ever stop, a decent person will.

Going to the source is your best chance of stopping rumors and gossip from spreading. If nothing else, you stood up for yourself, and you made your boundaries perfectly clear. For that you can be proud.

When We Hear Others Gossiping, How Can We Nicely Stop Them?

Stopping people in the midst of a gossip-fest takes courage. But it’s a kind act. And if we do it without raising our voices, or name-calling the gossipers, we can be assured that our actions are good.

If you inject humor into the situation, it’s usually the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. If you can’t think of anything humorous, reminding others that gossip is hurtful or that what goes around comes around will also usually do the trick.

Try something like:

“Shhh! Does anyone else hear that? I think it’s the clamor of gossip trying to take us over. Maybe we should change the subject before it catches up with us!”

“Does Violet know we’re talking about her son’s death? How does she feel about people knowing the details? If it were my son, I’d want to protect him from rumors about why and how. That’s all she can do for him now. Let’s help her.”

“Carla has her quirks, but she’s never been hurtful. I wouldn’t say any of these things to her, so I’m going to bow out of this conversation.”

“If this is what you say about Angelo, I can’t imagine the faults you can find with me. Should I be worried when I’m not around?”

“Today it’s Wayne, tomorrow who will it be? If you don’t mind, skip over me, and I’ll be sure to skip over all of you! I’ll see you guys at lunch!”

Grace Notes!

~ If someone starts telling you something you think is going to turn out to be gossip, you can interrupt with, “I apologize for interrupting you, but does Tess know you’re sharing this?”

~ If you’ve been caught gossiping about someone, take these measures to begin to make amends:

  • Take responsibility
  • Apologize
  • Don’t be defensive
  • Don’t be argumentative
  • Remember that inherent in every apology is the fact that you won’t do the same thing again
  • Ask for forgiveness and reconciliation
  • If you’re a Christian, pray and ask for forgiveness and help with not gossiping (memorizing Proverbs 11:13 and Proverbs 18:8 in your favorite version would also be helpful as you seek to live it out)

~ A friend should be the first line of defense for stopping gossip from ever getting to the ears of a friend. We want to shield those we love from what we know will be hurtful for them. (The same, of course, goes for family members.)

~ People who run to you to tell you minor things that others are saying about you aren’t your friends. They’re trying to make you feel bad about yourself. It’s best to ask them to keep the information to themselves.

~ If there’s a serious story going around about friends of yours and you can’t fix it, you need to consider telling them.

~ Your stories belong to you. Whether the gossip is true or false, you have the right to ask that the story stop being spread.

~ Live your life above the fray, and you won’t ever find yourself having to avoid a truth that’s being told about you!

What’s Next?

Gossip touches everyone, so please Like, Share, Tweet, Pin, Email, Google + and share this email with your friends, family, and those in your social media circles. Let’s help curb this plague of hurtful words.

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Until next week, may your life be gossip- and rumor-free. And may you be blessed from above every day! Be kinder than necessary, and share with the world something only you can give them: you…at your best!


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Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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