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Gossiping — it can feel good in the moment, but can be toxic in the long run. While there are certain types of benign gossip (talking about a friend’s promotion, for example) that can act as a social glue, other types of gossip are much more destructive, Dr. Andrea Bonior, a psychologist who teaches at Georgetown University and author of "The Friendship Fix," told TODAY.
“The type of gossiping that can be very damaging is the gossiping that is done with the intent to belittle, to criticize or to knock someone down,” she explained. That type of gossip, she said, can convey to the other person that you’re not trustworthy and are willing to talk behind someone else’s back.
Her best tip for shutting down gossip? Figure out what need you’re letting gossip fill, and figure out a way to replace it. It's easier said than done and requires a bit of retrospection.
For instance, many people fall into gossiping when they’re worried they don’t have anything interesting to say, Bonior explained. They may use gossip as a way to get closer to someone by offering a salacious, juicy tidbit. By asking yourself if you’re just trying to be liked, or trying to be interesting, when you gossip, you can pinpoint what need you’re letting gossip fill.
“The more you can find your emotional motivation for doing it, the easier you can understand how to scratch that itch elsewhere,” Bonior explained.
Thus, if you realize that you’re turning to gossip just to have something interesting to say to your friends, you can work to think of something else interesting to talk about instead, she noted. Come up with a few stories that are interesting about your hobbies, or else figure out a way to ask good questions about the people around you, as many people enjoy talking about themselves.
And if it’s your friend who keeps bringing up scandalous gossip, try to change the subject and don’t chime in, Bonior recommended. That way, you’ll send a signal to them that you’re not interested in engaging, without criticizing them or making them feel ashamed.
If the gossip continues, Bonior said, you may need to have a conversation with that friend, or else reevaluate that friendship down the line — especially if that friend is not making you the type of person you want to be.
The bottom line? “Empathy, empathy, empathy,” Bonior said. Try to have a sort of radical empathy for those around you, and remember that, no matter how angry you may be in the moment, or how juicy the gossip is, you wouldn’t want someone gossiping about you.
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