Stopping Gossip

One of the most often stated reasons for school violence is bullying. Someone feels picked on and ridiculed by others and resorts to striking back like a cornered animal. This cause of school violence may be anecdotal but you can find examples on almost any campus I know about.


The primary vehicle for bullying is gossip. It starts with critical words about someone’s appearance or the things they say or do. Gossipers usually escalate the stories, getting one-up by telling something worse than what has already been said. Pretty soon people are laughing and pointing or staring at someone else who feels utterly singled out and rejected.


Maybe you’ve been with a group when an attack of gossip broke out and wondered what to do to curb the enthusiasm of the critics. You might have even contributed to the stories rather than feeling left out. Better to leave out someone else than have a little discomfort of your own, right? Then you leave feeling like a coward.


The people at Vital Smarts who publish the Crucial Skills books recommend what they call C-P-R for such situations. Their blog this week focused on how to stop gossip and take a stand for its victim.


The C stands for content. Say something that challenges the content of the gossip. Simply disagree with one of the conclusions or accusations and present it as a minority opinion. When someone’s appearance is being criticized, you can offer “I think she looks nice,” rather than agreeing mindlessly with the crowd. When motives are criticized, you can say, “I don’t see that in his motives” or even challenge the assumption by saying, “I don’t think that’s something we can know for sure.”


If you don’t feel like arguing the finer points of the gossip, simply stating a contrary opinion might be enough to stem the tide. Try saying, “I disagree,” and see how they react. They may ask for your reasons and you may argue those reasons but it really isn’t necessary. Stating a contrary opinion at least stops the gossip from assuming everyone else is on board.


Remember that telling truth doesn’t justify the gossip. It doesn’t matter whether it is true if it is destructive and critical. The Golden Rule can help if you wonder; would you like for someone to speak this way about your appearance or motives? I thought not. The Golden Rule is another way of intervening. It goes with the letter P in the Vital Smarts’ suggestion. Addressing the pattern of communication gets to the larger picture.


The Crucial Skills writer suggested, “I like the way we kid around here but not when we start throwing people under the bus.” Whether you agree with the content or not, a pattern of throwing people under the bus can’t be considered acceptable. Offer this observation about the pattern and see if that slows the train down a bit.


The R in C-P-R stands for relationship. Gossipers rarely express concern for their relationship with the victim. When the victim is your boss or your child’s teacher, it’s time to suggest a change in audience. “Maybe that should be a topic of conversation between you and her instead of hashing it out here,” you might say. Gossip doesn’t fix relationship problems, it destroys those relationships. It infects the workplace and undermines authority figures and friends.


Challenge the content, consider the pattern or invest in the relationship. These responses stop gossip in its tracks. You would hope that someone would stand up for you in such a conversation, wouldn’t you?

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.