Gossip Police

I’ve been thinking of self challenge of quite some time. I’ll define a self challenge as a challenge that I put upon myself with the goal to increase my awareness and change a behavior for the better. Here’s my challenge:

Do no gossip

That is, don’t talk about people behind their back. I don’t mean the stereotypical gossip of “did you hear that so and so has been…” type of stuff, I mean generally avoiding speaking about people when they’re not there.

Why? Well. I think it would be good. I’m not sure that gossiping does anyone much good, and I think that if I’m civil and fair to everyone, regardless of whether they’re in the room or not, I’ll be more open minded and constructive. Additionally, I think following my challenge would constitute a pretty solid check mark in the golden rule department, which is still one of the most elegant moral systems.

Here are the rules I’m thinking of laying out (examples in parenthesis):

  • Speak no ill of anyone when they’re not there (So and so is lazy)
  • Speak no trivialities of anyone when they’re not there (So and so has a bad haircut)
  • Do Speak good of others when they’re not there (So and so is really smart at solving problems)
  • When I must speak critically of others, focus on non-judgmental observations (So and so has been coming in past 10:00am three days this week)
  • When I must speak of others, only phrase things in ways I would as if they were there (So and so is trying hard to solve the problem, but potentially is missing X or Y thing)

I had first thought that I could avoid speaking about others behind there back completely, but that is unrealistic. I have a job and a role that requires me to speak about others to solve problems for them or the company.

How hard will it be for me to keep to my five rules? Should I add another rule or rephrase them? Is it a worthwhile challenge? Should I try and log each time I break it? How should I remind myself to keep at it? And what kind of category should I put this under in my blog?

  1. I think this is an excellent challenge. I’d have to start with making sure that my words are as constructive face to face.

    What I love about your challenge John, is that your will need to keep a warm frame of mind towards other people; and, that you will be creating a non-judgemental culture all around you. Leading by example.

    I find when there is someone in the room that speaks the way your challenge describes, that everyone becomes more caring and helpful in their comments.

    • Man is it hard. Like, boy oh boy. I’ve had a lot of instances where I’m violating 300% of my rules at once.

      That said, I’ve also caught myself early and been able to change my behavior.

      I’ve found, in meetings, when I’m in “active listening practice” mode then the whole meeting can shift towards better listening / communication. Hopefully you’re right that the “non-gossip” rule can help influence others as well.

  2. I think that this is a great idea. Admittedly, I find this difficult for some people and not because they are gossipy themselves. For example, in my case, I have a few coworkers who purposely throw others under the bus and only talk about it to me when the person in question isn’t around. Personally, I often do my best to ignore them because it isn’t worth getting in to, however they continue talking and I immediately feel guilty that I am involved, even indirectly, in talking about someone behind their back.

    I feel that your rules and your idea is a very worthwhile challenge. I think that, in your position, if you can find a way to do it (and successfully), then you will be a better person because of it and others will hopefully follow the example. It can only be a good thing, right? I don’t necessarily think you need to log it every time you “fail”, but just be aware that you’ve done it and be active to not do it again following.

    Best of luck to you, sir!

    • It’s difficult. It’s difficult to do and to be around people who are doing it. Right now if it’s a one on one situation and someone is grossly violating my self challenge rules than I will politely inform them that I’m trying to avoid gossip or that their words about the person may not be constructive. It’s harder in a broad group (like a meeting) as it’s not always helpful to call people out.

      One thing I try to do is rephrase what is being said in an observational way that removes judgement. So if someone is throwing someone under the bus, so to speak, I can say “So you’re feeling annoyed because that person was late in getting that status email to you?”

      So far it’s hard though. My first violation was at 10:04 (via email, but I caught myself and didn’t send the email) and many times throughout the day did I either almost start, walk a fine line, or outright fail.

      But I’m going to keep on keeping on! 🙂 And thank you for your encouragement.

    • Sharon
    • April 13th, 2012

    For the record, I’m not a huge fan of my haircut either.
    No but seriously. I think a big challenge will be gracefully avoiding situations where others are doing those things. Are you going to walk away? Change the subject? Reveal your plan?

    Also- really enjoying your blog. 🙂

    • Combination of all of those depending on the situation and the person.

      -One on one I can easily just interrupt and explain.
      -In meetings or groups I can try to rephrase the statement as an impartial observer without judgement, or ask them to.
      -Silence can be powerful.

      It’s tough, and I appreciate and hold dear your encouragement! (and I personally like your hair)

    • Lindsay
    • April 13th, 2012

    Also the Gaels tend to do a lot of gossiping when drinking- or is that just the girls? I just always try to make sure that if I say anything about some one it is something I back up. Not that I’m mean but I am pretty honest. If I was being lazy and it was bothering people I would rather know because I might not have realized how lazy I was being. Word choice is important, lazy sounds bad.

    • Drinking and gossiping goes hand in hand, especially in a tight knit group like the Gaels.

      It sounds like you’re commenting on saying things honestly and bluntly to people’s faces. If that’s the case, that’s out of bounds of my self challenge (I’m allowing myself to be a jerk to people). If you’re talking about being blunt when people are not around, that’s a different story altogether.

      So here’s a question: if someone isn’t there, even if you’re being honest, are you doing yourself, the group you’re speaking with, or that person any favors?

      I believe no, which is why I’m trying to avoid speaking anything but positive things around someone when they’re not there, even if it’s honest or mildly harmless. I permit myself to say good things at will though! 🙂

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