Gossip

Two colleagues sitting at office table laugh and whisper about third colleague working nearbyGossip refers to the sharing of another individual’s personal information, typically without that other person’s presence or knowledge. While gossip is generally considered an aspect of typical human communication, especially for teenagers, the practices of gossiping and spreading rumors about others both have the potential to be highly damaging.

What Is Gossip?

While gossip and rumors are similar, there is some distinction between the two. A rumor is a piece of unverified information, on nearly any topic, that is being shared with another person. Gossip is some manner of salacious information, often about a person’s relationships, love life, sexual behavior, or other personal issues they may not feel comfortable sharing, that often leads the target to feel shame, embarrassment, or pain. Gossip can occur in the workplace, in schools, and among friends.

As the popularity and widespread use of social media increases, so has the ease and speed with which negative information about people can be disseminated. A rumor can spread within seconds if it is posted on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter. Though social media posts might be later taken down, it can be extremely difficult to soften the far-reaching impact of any hurtful messages, and the individual being discussed may feel humiliated or otherwise suffer.

Why Do People Gossip?

People might gossip for a variety of reasons. Sharing negative information about others can be a method some individuals use to feel better about themselves. This may be especially true for adolescents, who may, as part of the struggle to develop their own identity, experience self-esteem issues. Sometimes gossiping can also be a way to get attention—knowing something no one else knows about another person can make a person feel important. In some cases, people may engage in gossip in order to feel accepted. If other people in a social group are spreading gossip, it may feel necessary to participate in order to fit in.

Gossip can also be a form of relational aggression, if the purpose of gossiping is to get revenge or to increase one’s own social standing. Whether an individual feels wronged by another person or is envious of them in some way, they might choose to gossip about that individual or spread a rumor with the intention of hurting or “getting back at” that other person. Gossip can also serve the function of helping a person climb the social ladder, when that person shares information that diminishes the social standing of others.

The Harmful Impact of Gossip

Those who are the target of gossip generally find the experience to be very painful. Being the focus of gossip is not only likely to be humiliating in the moment, it can also have a long-term negative impact on a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. This impact might, in some cases, contribute to the development of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders.

Being the focus of gossip is not only likely to be humiliating in the moment, it can also have a long-term negative impact on a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. This impact might, in some cases, contribute to the development of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders.

Gossip can also negatively impact a person’s performance at school or work. When people know they are the subject of gossip, they may have difficulty focusing on important tasks and may even avoid going to school or work because they feel embarrassed, hurt, or anxious. Their reputation may be tarnished by the gossip being shared. Gossip can also negatively impact relationships, as it can make a person feel ostracized and alone. Further, conflict is possible when one person learns others are gossiping about them.

Gossip can also be harmful for those who participate in it but are not necessarily the target. People who consistently spread negative information about others may damage their own reputation by signaling they are not trustworthy, and they might become the next target of any rumors or gossip. Gossiping can also make an individual appear judgmental and insecure. Furthermore, gossiping is not actually helpful. If an individual has a conflict with another person, it is much more effective to address it assertively rather than address it by spreading hurtful rumors about the other person.

While gossip is most often damaging, it has actually been found to have some positive effects, in certain cases. One study found that employees who heard gossip about a colleague doing poorly on a performance review felt more confident about their own work. This speaks to the idea that competition often exists among peers. When an individual believes they are doing better than their peers, they feel good about their own performance. Alternatively, a person who hears glowing remarks about a colleague may be more likely to feel as if their own success is being threatened.

Coping with Gossip

It can be difficult, especially for teens who may be more likely to feel pressure to fit in and be liked, to handle being the subject of gossip. Those affected may find the following strategies to be helpful in stopping gossip:

  • Depending on the situation, it can be helpful to directly address the situation with the person who is spreading the gossip.
  • Assertively expressing one’s feelings without blaming or accusing can be an effective way to illustrate the effects of gossip. Doing so may help the person spreading gossip or rumors realize the effects of their actions.
  • In some cases, it may be best to ignore the gossip and let the situation pass. Gossip and rumors become less newsworthy over time, and people generally forget about them as time passes.
  • An individual who is the target of gossip may choose to seek help. If the gossip is happening among students at school, a parent, teacher, or counselor may be a helpful resource. In the workplace, it may be useful to inform human resources about any gossip that is having a negative impact.

Being the target of gossip can be humiliating and isolating, and the mental health effects of rumors and gossip can be significant. Seeking support from friends and family (as well as a qualified mental health professional, when necessary) can be beneficial to those coping with the effects of gossip. Connecting with friends can remind a person they have a support network, regardless of the gossip, and can prevent them from feeling ostracized.

People who engage in gossip might also desire to take steps to stop it. While it is common to gossip from time to time—in fact, engaging in gossip can provide a sense of camaraderie and connection—it is important to keep in mind that sharing personal information about others can be extremely hurtful. Remembering this can be a helpful way to resist spreading malicious or confidential information.

Standing up to people who are gossiping can also be beneficial. While it can be intimidating to confront people who are gossiping, doing the right thing can help an individual to feel better about themselves. For those who do not feel comfortable confronting others, the best course of action may be to avoid participating, change the topic, or simply walk away from the conversation.

Addressing the Effects of Gossip in Therapy

If somebody is experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns as a result of gossip, it can be helpful to seek treatment from a therapist. Therapy can provide a safe and supportive space for individuals to talk about painful experiences and have their feelings validated. Making a connection with a therapist can help a person to feel supported and less lonely, something that is especially important for those who are feeling socially isolated as a result of gossip. Therapists can also help those who wish to speak out against gossip or start a discussion with the individuals spreading the rumors develop a plan to do so, if they are unsure of how to begin communication directly.

References:

  1. Gordon, S. (2017, May 1). Understanding the impact of rumors and gossip. VeryWell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/understanding-the-impact-of-rumors-and-gossip-460625
  2. List, J. (2016, January 18). The harmful effects of gossiping. Odyssey. Retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-harmful-effects-of-gossiping
  3. Murad, A. (2012, August 16). Office gossip: The good, the bad, and what to do when you are the subject. Fox Business. Retrieved from http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2012/08/16/office-gossip-good-bad-and-what-to-do-when-are-subject.html
  4. Sgobba, C. (2014, November 24). The weird way gossip messes with your mind. Men’s Health. Retrieved from http://www.menshealth.com/health/how-gossip-affects-your-mind

Last Updated: 05-23-2017

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