What Gossip Actually Does.

How critical talk has more to say about the talker than the target.


I, as many of you, have been the victim of gossip more than a couple times in life. It’s made me feel betrayed, and misunderstood, and deeply embarrassed, and angry – even enough to architect those childish rebuttals that would seemingly promise some level of revenge if you ever had the nerve to let them leave your head.

Sadly, I know what it’s like to be the one victimizing as well. Though I’ve never been one to make gossip a habit, it’s allure has often been a strong one.

Being a critic has a way of making us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel like we’re in control of what the people around us view as normal. It offers an immediate way to blow off steam, and even has a way of making us feel more connected to the ones we’re gossiping with.

The truth is that gossip is a liar. It may make us feel relieved and powerful and connected. But in all reality, whether in the workplace, friendship, or at home, speaking critically about another person is one of the more damaging things we can do to them and to ourselves.

Here is what gossip actually does.

Gossip makes you unsafe and eventually, lonely.

Science tells us that shared dislikes create stronger bonds than shared positives. This is why gossip seems to create a quicker and easier connection with fellow gossipers.

But let’s make no mistake, gossip doesn’t facilitate real or lasting connection with anyone. You, me, and anyone else that doesn’t know how to tame their inner critic, will inevitably be found out as untrustworthy.

The last person we’re going to feel safe trusting and sharing real life with is the public critic. Why? Because, though it may take a second, everyone eventually realizes that “People that gossip, gossip about you.”

Gossip projects insecurity.

“Gossip, be it in the form of a rumor that’s sweeping the nation or a gripe session between friends, reflects the insecurity of those who initiate it.” Oprah, the Queen herself, goes on to insightfully say, “When we make negative statements about others behind their backs, we often do so because we want to feel powerful—and that’s usually because we in some way feel powerless, unworthy, or not courageous enough to be forthright.”

Regardless if we’re aware of it or not, we all deal with insecurity or low self-esteem on some level. Sadly, gossip is often just another mask, like over-achieving or self-glorification, to find validation or simply to feel like more than who we believe we are.

Gossip indicates emotional immaturity.

There’s no doubt that productively dealing with your inner critic or relational frustrations is a developed craft. Healthy confrontation is a challenging and lost art that, often, becomes an inferior option to the far easier emotional relief of “venting” to the closest ear.

However, a chronic gossiper is often simply someone unwilling to relationally mature. It’s someone who needs emotional relief, like all of us, but hasn’t developed a prosocial way to get it.

Gossip comes back around.

Some call it reaping what you sow. Others, Karma. But in the end, what goes around, always has a way of coming back around.

Jesus seemed to understand how the social universe works when he said, “That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. You will be treated as you treat others and the standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

Gossip, and be gossiped about. Judge another for a certain choice or way of life at your own risk.

Gossip lies to you.

According to scientific observation, gossip is a self fulfilling prophecy and has a way of crafting perception and creating reality.

Our minds are always trying to match the external with our internal worlds. And because gossip alters people’s internal perspective, spotting the negative things you’ve been told about someone is far more likely to happen, regardless if they exist or not.

The moral of this story?

Gossip doesn’t cultivate a good life.

The better news, however, is that the same emotional relief, relational connection, and powerful feeling we look to gossip to give us can be found in far more prosocial habits. And though there may be many good alternatives to gossip, I find a particular one to silence my inner critic better than most.

This habit is advocacy.

It’s learning how to spot the gold in a person, regardless of how hard it is to see, and choosing to focus on it.

It’s about refusing to judge a person based on what you think is right or wrong, or bad or good, or better and best, and finding something you appreciate about them.

It’s about identifying something in a person, even just one thing, that inspires you to speak life and not death.

Because, in the end, it’s not just about how damaging gossip can be to us and the world around us. It’s about the positive change advocating words can create.

Shall we give it a try?

For the next 24 hours, every time you catch yourself thinking a negative thought about someone, let’s reverse our course. Find one thing you like about them and simply, internally or externally, acknowledge it. I think we’ll be surprised at how such a small rudder tends to turn such a large ship.

Or, if you have another alternative to critical talk that you’ve found successful, tell us about it.

  • Nathaniel Durgasingh

    Good read Tyler! I do believe that Gossip is an ever growing problem in todays society and it seems as though that course isn’t slowing down. I think what adds to it is the fact that a lot of people were brought up around people who negatively talk about others behind their back and base on that, they grew up believing it was “normal” and “okay”.

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    @nathanieldurgasingh:disqus: Good observations and unfortunately, gossip perceived as a normal social function is very true.

  • Todd Smith

    i’ve always been intrigued by jesus’ notion that we are only defiled by what comes out of our mouths, not by what goes in; i.e. ill words, gossip. not sure the exact verse but i know it’s in there. gossip is so tempting as a social ice breaker but you always feel dirty after. if we could step outside of those awkward moments when we might be prone to indulge and view the situation and choice from the larger perspective, we would never engage, never sell out our long-term integrity for the short-term gain

  • http://tylerwardis.com/ tyler ward

    Perspective can certainly help curve the urge. The question is how to consistently live with that perspective?

    Thanks for the response @disqus_syFzjmFvOa:disqus.

  • archi

    Actively Changing ones perspective as suggested can also bring inner peace. Finding the diamond mist the stone…I guess.

  • jo

    Yes, that is the question. I appreciate the focus on the alternative behaviors. I work with other generations with different daily priorities than my own. Refusing to participate in gossip is powerful personal growth but incredibly lonely and even creates an easy target for the remaining office. It’s painful sometimes, requiring searching out support diligently. Like this post. Thank you.

  • Kim

    So good to read as I am experiencing a difficult time with someone. So easy to go right to all that is wrong with them and fail to extend grace, see what is good, hope for the best… love as Christ does. Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://www.jeremyjenson.com Jeremy Jenson

    When becoming a member of our church we have a ‘no gossip’ covenant that new members must sign. At first I thought it strange, no covenant about alcohol or drugs or anything illegal. Just gossip. Then thinking about it, it made sense. Out of all the things that can tear down a fellowship, gossip just might be the quickest and most effective.