How to Handle Gossip and Keep Your Sanity

The problem with gossip is we all do it.  Some may do it more than others, but we all do it to some extent.  This sad fact does not make gossip okay, but it does help us to deal with it when we come across gossip about ourselves.  Dealing with gossip can be a mine field of professionalism and hurt feelings, but doing it gracefully can help you keep your sanity and make you look like the best person out there.

how to deal with gossip

Why do People Gossip

Gossip is not just for teenage girls, as a matter of fact, I have seen some men in their 50’s who could compete with most teen girls.  Why do they do that?  Let’s look at the psychology behind gossip for a minute.

Gossip makes the person telling the stories the center of attention

“OMG guess what I just heard about our favorite boss?”  they tell you over coffee in the morning.  You know you shouldn’t but you just can’t help yourself.  “Really, what did you hear?”  Even if you do not believe a word that comes out of this persons mouth, you are going to stand there and give them your undivided attention

Gossip makes people feel like they fit in

Look around at this country and you will see a country divided.  Pokemon Go, the Presidential race, guns, religion etc. these issues are blared out by the media and then examined to death by the talking heads. We pick a side for one reason or another, and often times, make fun of the other side.  We now fit in with a whole genre of people. We share memes targeting the other side, we discuss our points with others who feel the same and get a giant ego boost out of someone saying “Yes you are right”.

Gossip does the same thing on a smaller scale. If your office mate is mad at you, he can get others to join him by gossiping about you.  Now he belongs to the We hate You movement and instantly feels like he fits in with a group of people. All of the people that encouraged the gossip by listening, repeating, or gasping “No way!” now also get the ego boost of being part of this exclusive club.


They are Worried About the Outcome of a Situation

This is probably more common in professional settings than personal settings but often people are looking for information about a situation that they are worried about.

Confession time. This is me to a tee with a recent development in my company.  If you read Why You Need to Unplug you might remember that lovely boss I used to have that required us to get on conference calls when we were on vacation.  He is now up for a job that will once again make him my boss, only at a higher level.  Please for the love of all things Holy, NO.  So as you might imagine I am worried about it, and have indulged in some gossip to find out which way the wind is blowing. This of course does not make it right, but it is a good illustration of why someone would indulge in gossip like this.

Types of Gossip

As illustrated in the reasons people gossip, there are different types of gossip.  Some has no purpose other than to make someone the center of attention, some to boost an ego or prove a point and some to find information.  The type of gossip you are dealing with can point you in the right direction when it comes to how to handle the gossip.

  • Superficial gossip.  This is often the type of gossip you encounter when someone wants to be the center of attention.  “OMG did you see the color of the sweater she is wearing?  I wouldn’t be caught dead in such a thing”.  Thank you Hedi Klum for your fashion advice.
  • Personal gossip.  This is also a center of attention thing, but it tends to be more mean spirited and can be an ego boost for whoever is spreading it and create a “we hate you” club.  This is the gossip about your love life or personality traits and it is usually the most hurtful.
  • Informational gossip.  “Did you hear that John Doe has been named the new head of marketing?”  Even though you work in the mail room, you still want to know what is going on at the VP level, especially if you happen to know (even in the six degrees of separation sense) someone up for the job.
  • Professional gossip.  This is gossip at your level.  “Did you hear Tracey Sue is leaving for another company?”  or even worse “I heard Tracey Sue bombed her presentation and the VP hated it”.

So How do You Handle it, and Keep Your Sanity?

We have been taught since we were little to just ignore it, and in some instances that is true.  I mean, who really cares if the fashion diva doesn’t like the color of your sweater, but sometimes, you will have to address it.

When to Ignore it

If you are dealing with some superficial schmuck who thinks that hair, makeup, clothes or any of the other superficial things in life is worth gossiping about.  Ignore it, be the bigger person.  Smile, be kind and mean it when you have to deal with them. They will move on to other people who get riled up about their discussions.  You can’t really have two sides to an issue if one side doesn’t care.

The other time ignoring it is best is if it is something more along the informational lines.  If someone is trying to figure out if you got the new promotion, take it as a compliment.  All you have to do is smile and say “I can’t really talk about it now”.  That way you don’t feed the gossiper, but you aren’t rude either.

When and How to Talk to Your Boss

If you are dealing with some nasty office rumor that you believe will effect your professional standing, you need to address it with your boss.  That doesn’t mean go running to your boss and say “I heard that you hated my presentation, OMG is it true?”

To keep your professional standing, you have to be professional.  Ask your boss for a meeting and ask them how you can do your job better.  Don’t bring up specific incidences, just ask them where you are going right and where you are going wrong.  When they tell you where you are going wrong (and they will because none of us are perfect) don’t argue. This is your chance to be proactive, “Can you recommend a book, a class or a mentor in that area?” Even if it was true that your boss hated your presentation, your willingness to learn from your mistakes will quell any fears your boss may have had, and keep you in good professional standing.

When and How to Address the Gossip

When it comes to personal gossip, it simply should not be tolerated by anyone, but we all know that isn’t the case.  You are going to have to address it in some way, even if it is just to protect your own sanity.  If the gossip is going on in a work setting, consult your human resources department and see what your options are, direct confrontation in a work setting is usually a bad idea and puts the gossiper in the spotlight right where they want to be.

If the setting is at a personal level you have a few options.

  • Confront them kindly and ask them why they are saying such hateful things about you.  I think often times people gossip for sport and forget that there is a real person with feelings on the other end.  Reminding them kindly about that fact may make them back off.
  • Use a trusted friend as a mediator.  If you have one of those level headed, ease the tension type friends, ask them to help you hash out the problem with your friend or family member.
  • Sever contact with the person. If you have tried the first two options and got zero results, there is no need to keep them in your circle. Even if they are family.  If they are on any of your social media networks, unfriend or delete them.  This person is not your friend, and seeing the nasty stuff they spread about you will only upset you and encourage them.

The Aftermath

Gossip can lead to a lot of hurt feelings even after you have dealt with it.  To protect your sanity and your happiness here are a few tips to get you moving forward after a nasty gossip incident.

  • Forgive them. I talked at length about the importance of forgiveness in this post.  Forgiving someone is about freeing you, not them, and of course chances are you have been the gossiper at some point and you would probably like forgiveness for your transgressions.
  • Concentrate on the good.  Start a gratitude journal, try my 7 Day Gratitude Challenge, or make a Happiness List.  Anything you can do to concentrate on the good things in life.
  • Reconnect.  Chances are good that this person will feel remorse and come to you asking for forgiveness.  It is perfectly fine to take them back for first, second and maybe third offenses, after that I would be much more hesitant.  If you are dealing with a gossipy family member, check out this post from Marc and Angel about dealing with toxic family members. 
  • Remember the lesson.  You know how you felt, keep that in mind the next time a juicy piece of gossip comes your way.




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