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Why Gossip Is Bad For You And What To Do Instead

“Gossip is what no one claims to like—but everyone enjoys.”

Joseph Conrad

Wow, is gossip really bad for you? I think I’m one of those people who totally missed the memo on this. It seems to be the best tool in any social scenario and that’s all what my work colleagues, friends and family member do. It is what apparently holds our (perhaps a tad shallow) society together. There are websites dedicated to the subject of talking about total strangers. From first graders to the elderly everyone’s at it. There’s a multi billion pound/dollar industry built around it. How is this a problem and how do we tackle it?


The science of gossip – What is it and why do we do it?

So what exactly do we consider as gossip? We can be very creative in convincing ourselves that we don’t actually engage in gossip. If she didn’t make me to swear not to share, it’s ok to share. If he’s badmouthed me it’s totally ok to spread a rumour about him. But alas, it’s not ok.

Gossip is anything and everything you wouldn’t tell the person face to face. Or not in a same tone you do behind their back.

    • Making unkind remarks (even if they are factually true)
    • Sharing personal stories of other people (rule of thumb is just because they don’t specifically state that you should not share it, you shouldn’t anyway)
    • Solving our inner tension over a conflict by telling a third person instead of the person at hand (unless we do it so to get clarity from a person we deeply trust)
    • Spreading untrue rumours. That’s the worst kind of gossip that you can get into trouble for.

Why do we gossip? This habit goes way way back. Like, caveman, Mesolithic human back. There is a safe assumption that humans sat around a freshly killed beast and badmouthing someone who wasn’t doing their bit in the hunting or gathering process. Anthropologists believe that throughout human history, gossip has been a powerful way for us to bond with others—and sometimes to block and isolate those who aren’t on board with the team’s overall goals and not supporting the group. So it seems useful but even scientists agree that gossip can hurt relationships and create an atmosphere of fear, resentment and general negativity.

Why don’t successful people gossip (or at least, never publicly)

The key reason of why not to gossip – aside the obvious reason that it’s not nice and morally slightly wrong – is that it always gets back to the person. If not the first gossip, then the next one, the nature of the thing is we keep doing it until we get found out or confronted. That person will know what you think of them and they won’t take it lightheartedly. Some say you’ll get it back by karma, which could be true but there is a much more pragmatic reason for how badmouthing another person will affect you more negatively than the person in question.

David J. Schwartz, the successful motivational writer of the positive thinking self-help bible, The Magic Of Thinking Big that successful people don’t get to the top alone, but get lifted by the people who work along them and support them. Now, to be lifted and supported by your sub and co-ordinates, you’ve got to make yourself likeable and it is a given that won’t happen by acquiring a reputation of a gossiper. Support and cooperation of others requires leadership ability. You won’t make yourself liked or respected by gossiping.

People who talk about other people because they cannot be succesful themselves. So they feel the need to create & identify villains around by gossiping.

Some reasons why gossip is bad for you (as well as the victim)

    • It takes up mental energy
    • It won’t win you many friends. It’s a short term gratification but it is damaging on the long run.
    • It undermines people’s trust in you
    • oIt makes you lose focus by getting caught up in unimportant things that have nothing to do with you
    • It can get you into serious trouble, sometimes even legal trouble
    • It sets a bad example to your employees or kids
    • It creates a negative atmosphere
    • It’s passive-agressive – successful people just say what they mean. Unsuccessful people with low self-esteem are afraid to say what they mean, so they say it behind your back. Successful people don’t do that.
    • You have better things to do.

How to kick the bad habit of gossip

Well, in the most simplest way, stop doing it. It won’t be easy. Or more likely, it’ll be bloody hard. You’d be surprised how deeply it is ingrained gossip is into our system and everyday lives. I’ll write about kicking a bad habit in a separate post as it is a very meaty topic, but here’s one quick tip for those who are desperate right now to get rid of the bad habit of badmouthing people (anybody out there?).

There is a relatively simple method for stopping  daily negativity, complaining and gossiping and it is called the 21 day no complaint challenge. It started with Will Bowen, an American author and the founder of A complaint free world. The idea behind the challenge is based the scientific evidence that it takes around 21 days to form a new habit and the best way to kick an old habit is to replace it with a new, more improved better habit.

A complaint free world offers a simple purple rubber bracelet that you have to wear every day and wehenever you find yourself complaining, gossiping or criticising (yourself or somebody else) move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again. This will work as a simple reminder, brings self awareness and ultimately, challenges your habit and helps to replace it with something more helpful and productive. You can make a point of thinking something positive every time. Or something useful. Be nice to others and they’ll return the favour. Don’t gossip.


Your thoughts? 

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Hi there, I'm Anna, editor of the Practical Happiness blog. I'm a life-curious adventure lover, an aspiring social scientist and a positive psychology nerd, interested in the why behind everyday life's mysteries. I write about things that excite and inspire me.

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