Whether it is in the workplace, the classroom or the home, gossip and rumors are destructive. DeMolay International, an organization designed to help young men become leaders, describes gossip as “an emotional cancer” that “eats away at the sense of well-being of the individual or the team.” Once started, rumors can be difficult to stop, but not impossible.
There is a subtle difference between rumors and gossip. A rumor is a single piece of information that may be partially true or completely false. It’s more like a story. Many urban legends are rumors. Who hasn’t heard about that person someone’s cousin knew who ate fizzy candy while drinking a soda and exploded? This example is easy to laugh off, but if you hear a rumor about office layoffs or an acquaintance’s pregnancy, it may be much harder to ignore. Rumors can grow with every telling as each speaker adds a small embellishment to the story.
Gossip is slightly different from rumors. Gossip is usually about someone we know or feel that we know. The subject might be someone from the office or school or a celebrity. Gossip focuses on issues that are generally private or are no one else's business, such as who the person is dating or what the person said in a particular situation. It can be completely true, a complete lie, or somewhere in between. The hallmark of gossip is news that doesn’t really affect you and is none of your business.
When most people think of a bully, they think of a tough kid roughing up little ones for their milk money. The reality is often far different. When one individual uses gossip or rumors to manipulate others, he or she is a bully. Today’s reliance on social media gives a cyber boost to rumors and gossip. Helping to stop rumors and gossip in their tracks is as simple as refusing to participate. This means ignoring gossip from friends and refusing to spread rumors yourself.
The best antidote for rumors is trust. If the members of any group trust the leadership, rumors have no place to grow. When a rumor starts running through any group, the leaders should increase communication within the organization, whether that is a school, family or office. To stop gossip in a group, model a strict “no gossip” policy. Like tattling among children, teach your group the difference between sharing necessary information and gossip. Discount gossip that comes your way by asking one simple question: “Do I need to know that?”
Dealing with gossip and rumors can be much harder when you are the focus of the idle chatter. The first thing to do is to go to a trusted friend or family member and seek support. If you know the source, consider confronting that person in a firm but compassionate manner. Sometimes it is most hurtful when gossip is accurate, but is still no one else’s business. Remember that everyone has embarrassing moments, but you deserve your privacy just like everyone else. Take care of yourself and remember that gossip will pass.
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