The allure of gossip

I’ve been thinking about gossip lately.

The other day, I taught an etiquette class to a mom and her delightful eight year old daughter. One of the topics I covered was gossip.

When I teach it, I have my kids squeeze some toothpaste out of a tube onto a plate and then ask them to try to put it back into the tube. They usually struggle to get it back in. That’s when I say “gossip is like toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube, once it’s out you can’t take it back.”

An acquaintance I know has a tendency to gossip a lot about others. She gossips both about her friends and people she doesn’t know well. The first few times she did it with me it didn’t bother me too much. But, when it became a regular occurrence I started to get annoyed. Not only do I not like hearing negative things about others, but I realize if she is talking to me about others she is probably gossiping about me as well. Because of this I don’t feel I can trust her.

I’m not going to say I’ve never gossiped. I am not perfect by any means. But, I try not to do it because I it makes me uncomfortable when others gossip with me. When I catch myself gossiping it’s often because I’m feeling insecure about something and I do it to make myself feel better. Keeping this in mind, when I find myself gossiping I try to look at what’s making me feel apprehensive, and then work through it rather than denigrate someone.

Does that mean we should never gossip? No, sometimes it’s helpful to share information about others. For example, many years ago I was interviewing for a job, and in my research I talked to a friend who knew the company very well and was friends with some of the employees. I asked my friend to find out about the position and the person I would report to. It turns out the hiring manager had been accused of sexual harassment by several employees. I was so glad I got that information before I continued pursuing the job.

So, occasionally gossip can be useful. Most times though it is a useless, hurtful practice that harms both the gossiper and his or her target.

When you find yourself gossiping try to connect with what’s making you feel insecure or afraid. Then focus on working through your feelings rather than maligning someone else. It’s not always easy to do, but awareness is the first step.

How do you feel about gossip?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. BethBuelow on May 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm

     Arden Clise , I agree, malicious or hurtful gossip is something to be absolutely avoided. I appreciate, though, that you mention that it’s not always a bad thing. I remember reading an NYT piece many years back that made the case that a little fun gossip in the workplace actually helped people connect and form stronger bonds, because it created an “I belong here” environment. I tried the find that piece and couldn’t, but here’s a more recent one that says the same: It makes the distinction between negative and positive gossip, which feels valid to me.
    It feels like there’s also a difference between whether the gossip is about a mutual friend or colleague, or about, for instance, Angelina Jolie. While spreading negativity still puts negative energy out into the universe, it seems like celebrity gossip has slightly different rules (for better or for worse – Angelina is still a human being with feelings). After all, entire publications are devoted to nothing BUT gossip… they must be feeding some need, including the needs (for attention, publicity) of the gossip target.
    I have to say, as an entrepreneur who works solo more often than not, I do sometimes miss the office chatter and banter that occasionally included a touch of healthy gossip. Just sayin’ 😉

  2. ArdenClise on May 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

     @BethBuelow  Arden Clise
     Beth, you are so right. I remember that article too. Some light, fun gossip in the workplace can help people form connections with their coworkers. Where it gets problematic is when it’s part of the culture and everyone talks about everyone all the time. That makes for a toxic environment; one where people don’t trust each other or feel safe. I have experienced that workplace and it’s not fun.
    As I mentioned in my Facebook comment to your post about this I don’t think of you as someone who gossips. In fact, the few times I’ve forgotten my manners and gossiped you have been good about not joining in. That is the way to respond and to gain people’s respect of you. So, bravo to you! 

  3. VickiB on May 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm

     @BethBuelow This is why the world invented Twitter. 🙂

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