Letting Go of Gossip

This Lent, I gave up gossip. This has been tough. I miss the way gossip clarifies your values. It’s like when you watch Nanny 911 and you feel so good and smug about your own parenting skills. You think to yourself, “I would never do THAT!” (But let’s admit, we’ve all done much worse. We just, thankfully, did not have a camera crew following us and recording our parenting failures! Not too worry, those incidents will be remembered by our children who will blame us for years to come.)

In the fall, I met a church executive who told me she left church work for a while to sell Mary Kay cosmetics when her husband was in the military. She said in the Mary Kay biz, you were not allowed to gossip or criticize one another. (I don’t know how they enforce this). But she said it was a good and productive way to work and that she wished she could do this again now that she’s returned to church work.

I know there are positive sides to gossip — studies show it can bind community members together and other studies show that gossip lowers your heart rate. Whatever. From my own experience, gossip undermines creativity and productivity and inhibits trust in coworkers.

At work, I’ve felt stuck when a colleague wants to gossip about another colleague. I have no way to extricate myself.

Here I am at the work Christmas party. I hope I wasn't gossiping. (photo by J. Barnes)Should I?

1. Say nothing, which makes the gossiper think I agree so they keep on gossiping.

2. Say, “I hear you. But I gave up gossip for Lent, so, much as I’d like to join this gossip gravy train right now, I can’t.” No, this makes me feel all holier-than-thou.

3. Don’t talk to anyone. Umm, that’s not happening.

Without gossip, I’m losing an opportunity to bond.

On my Twitter feed the other day, another woman church executive wrote a tweet, something like, “We remember best the people who supported us most.” I want to be that person — the one remembered for being supportive, creative, and productive, not negative or gossipy.

I do want my heart rate lowered and I do want to bond with my colleagues. So after Easter, I may have to dive back in the gossip pool. Or I may not. There’s a lot to talk about besides each other. And there’s a lot to admire in one another. I’m a big fan of admiring my colleagues. And I want to keep admiring people more (not less).

But as one other coworker told me, “I never gossip. But you want to know who does???” (ba dum bum!)

Why Are People Mean?

“Mean people are an excuse to stand up for yourself and show compassion,” I agreed with this on my Twitter feed the other day.

It was a day that I was the recipient of a mean remark at work. It’s taken me a while to get over it. I wish I wasn’t so thin-skinned.

If you know me IRL (in real life), you know that I am an extremely nice person. Just the other night when I went to see the movie, Take Shelter —which, seriously, inspired a panic attack in me and I had to leave the movie early — I apologized to the person who sat behind me, because my head blocked her view. So that’s how nice I am. I apologize to strangers because I sit in front of them at the movies.

After the workplace conversation, which also inspired a panic attack, I thought, “Hmmm, wait a minute! You feel I dissed someone? That’s not me. You want me to feel bad about myself? Hmmm. I don’t want to. I’ve got too much to do today. And feeling bad about myself isn’t on the agenda.” I wanted to agree, because I simply love agreement — being such a fan of my “Yes, And!” training from improv and leadership classes.

On my bike ride Saturday, I passed this scene in the Meatpacking District. The sidewalk was covered with rose petals. There were enough for everyone.

If what we’re agreeing on is that I didn’t do a good enough job, I can’t agree. I did an awesome job. I’m sorry you don’t think so — or you overheard someone who said that I didn’t do my job well enough. So it’s really workplace gossip. Wait. This isn’t about me. It’s about you and that was just mean.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Health & Wellness section, there’s an article, ‘It’s Mine’ The Selfish Gene: Tots as Young as 3 Can Be Generous While Others Are Inclined To Hog by Kevin Helliker. He writes, “About two-thirds of the children chose to give one or more sets of stickers to an unknown recipient, described to them only as a child who had no stickers.”

Other studies show 70 percent of adults are generous. I believe I am with the majority, looking out for others.

If anything, I fail because I want too much to be liked and approved of. I admit taking criticism is not my strength. I like the gold star and the praise — I like to give it and I like to get it. And I like that I am nice. And I really like nice people. I like my friends smart, funny and nice. And if I could only have one of those attributes in a friend, I’ll choose nice.

So why are some people mean? Maybe it’s just a mean gene; they’re part of the one-third that won’t share their stickers. That’s just how they roll.

As the Twitterverse reminded me, an interaction with a mean person is an opportunity to stand up for yourself, show a little compassion, look within, make any corrections, and ultimately, move on, sharing the stickers. It is not easy.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article: It’s Mine!

And this helped me too: Don’t treat unkindness with kindness.