Derailing and Avoiding Gossip in our Friendships
People often say, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. The trouble with this phrase is that sooner or later, people almost always find out. And then it does hurt.
As a follower of Christ, avoiding gossip seems like it needs to be a priority, but this doesn’t feel as simple as just “not gossipping” when it comes to real-life conversation moments. It is so easy to suddenly find yourself in a gossipy conversation and realize only too late that you’re there. So, I’m trying to learn to identify gossip and what it looks like in practical conversations so I can avoid going there myself and know when an attempt to derail the conversation might be a God-honoring move.
Today, let’s look at five different situations that fall into the category of gossip that we might encounter as we’re spending time with our girls. We’ll look at…
The Situation – what might this look like in your friendships and interactions.
Warning Words – some verbiage that should serve as warning lights indicating you might be entering gossipy territory.
Avoiding It: How we can avoid this kind of gossip ourselves.
Derailing It: How to derail or redirect that kind of a conversation if it does come up.
1. Sharing knowledge that isn’t yours to share.
The Situation: A friend told you something in a one-on-one conversation, and you are just *dying* to share it with your mutual friends.
Warning Words: Guess what so and so said… She told me… We were talking the other day and she said…
- Is this mine to share? (My story, my situation, my news, my struggle?)
- How did I learn this? (Did the person sharing intend for me to tell our mutual friends?)
- Did she tell me this was ok to share? (Explicitly tell you or imply it?)
Derailing it: Hmm, it sounds like she shared that with you privately, so I’d rather give her the chance to tell me more about that herself if she wants.
Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Sharing knowledge that isn’t ours to share violates trust and can breed distrust in that friendship. Is that worth the moment of satisfaction you might experience when telling another friend something they didn’t know before? When I think about the overarching stakes of that decision, which might feel like no big deal in the moment, it doesn’t seem worth it to me at all.
2. Talking about a situation in which neither of you are a central player.
The Situation: You’re hanging out and someone brings up a conflict or situation that one or both of you know of, but aren’t directly involved in.
Warning Words: Have you heard about… What about…. Can we just talk about… Can we pray for so and so… *cringe*
- Are you really trying to work through something, or do you just find it more interesting, more satisfying, and more comfortable to talk about other people’s problems rather than be vulnerable with your own?
- Sorry, since she’s not here, I don’t want to talk about her business. Then, just change the subject!
- Ask yourself, is this a conversation that is going to benefit those of us listening and build others up or meet their needs? (Eph. 4:29)
- Let’s talk about how we can support her right now instead of just talking about the situation.
- Let’s actually pray for her right now instead of just talking about it.
- That makes me think of this struggle in my own life…
- That reminds me, how are you doing with ____?
3. When we need to process a situation that we are a part of.
The Situation: You’re at a group hang out and something comes up. You really do need to talk about it and get some wisdom on the situation, which directly involves you.
Warning Words: Mention or feelings of venting or ranting. These are conversation styles that seek to unload emotion rather than process it while seeking wise counsel.
Avoiding It: The biggest thing is to ask yourself is, is this the time and place? When you bring up a matter like this in a big group, most likely all you’re going to get is release and affirmation of your feelings. You’re not setting yourself up to hear real wisdom or challenge back from your friend in a group setting like this. Instead, seek a private, intentional, focused occasion where you can truly hear a trusted friend’s wise counsel for the situation.
This might look like…
- I really need to talk to someone about this situation and my response to it. Can we meet sometime to talk?
- NOT – While you’re all here, I need to get this out. (rant ensues – you’re not looking for wisdom, you’re looking for release and affirmation).
Then, when you are in that private, focused setting, avoid gossip in that conversation by…
- Focusing on your role in the situation, not the other players.
- Owning your part rather than accusing.
- Sharing only as much info as is necessary for a healthy conversation to take place.
- Not exaggerating.
- I’d love to talk to you about that sometime, but this doesn’t feel like the time or place. Could we put a date on the calendar? *Actually get out your calendar*
- It seems like talking this out might be helpful, but I’m pretty distracted right now, can we talk about this one on one?
- I don’t know if this many opinions would be very helpful. Would you be willing to choose one or two of us to talk about one-on-one about this sometime soon?
4. Speaking unkindly and untruly about someone behind their backs (slander).
The Situation: Someone says something unkind about someone that seems like it could be exaggerated or just untrue. OR You find yourself ranting (warning!) about someone or a situation, and you start to exaggerate for effect or to make the offense, situation, or response sound more severe than it really was.
Warning Words: I just need to say this… Honestly… [insert unkind thing we feel or think, but know we really shouldn’t verbalize]
- Don’t share something that you don’t know if it’s true or not, and, obviously, don’t lie about someone.
- Don’t exaggerate hurts, words, or the situation either, as this is a form of untrue testimony.
- Ask yourself: Why do I “just need to say this”? Is it to get something that’s been bouncing around in your head off your chest? If it’s unkind, we are called to submit that to the Lord and hold our tongue. James 3:9-10 says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” By the power of the Holy Spirit inside us, we can learn to submit to God in this and have the strength to resist that temptation to speak ill of our sisters. It may be hard. It may be a journey of trying and failing. But the Lord can change our actions to match our hearts in this if we ask him to!
- I don’t feel like this conversation honors the Lord or that person.
- I don’t want to talk about so and so behind her back. Can we talk about something else?
- Say something kind about this person.
- Redirect them back into talking about themselves, not the other person, with something like… That sounds like it was really hard, how are you processing through this situation? OR Do you have someone to talk to about this? OR Are you taking any steps to pursue restoration or is that not an option right now?
Proverbs 16:28 and 17:9 say, “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” I don’t know about you, but I can get into supportive girlfriend mode very easily and suddenly find myself affirming and co-trashing on someone, even if I don’t know them! Friend, protect yourself from slipping into that. There is a better, God-honoring way to support and empathize. Let us not be girlfriends who stir up conflict and end up contributing to disunity. Rather, let’s listen well, hold firm boundaries on our values, and seek to truly support our friend in her hurt, not just affirm her words no matter what.
5. Repeating second-hand knowledge.
The Situation: You heard something from someone else, and it may or may not be true, but you want to share it anyway.
Warning Words: I heard that… So and so told me… I don’t know if this is true or not, but…
Avoiding It: At worst, it’s untrue, and you’re now in the realm of slander. Or, it is true, but it’s still not your knowledge to share. Either way, if you don’t know if something is true or not, assume it isn’t and keep it to yourself.
Derailing It: In a conversation where someone pitches out some kind of second-hand knowledge you feel is in the realm of gossip, try to practice responses that do acknowledge what a person said, but don’t affirm it. Conversation is an exchange. Often, someone shares something, and we feel as though we owe them something back. If what they shared is gossipy, though, responses like hmm… or a simple okay denote that you heard someone, but you aren’t going to share something gossipy in response to keep that kind of conversation going. Often, these types of conversations will fizzle out if you simply refuse to engage or provide another “morsel” in return.
At the end of the day, navigating gossip in friendships is one of the toughest aspects of friendship I have ever encountered. It is so easy to slip into, hard to identify in the moment, and difficult to derail without feeling awkward. But the truth is that some awkwardness is a small price to pay for honoring God and others. It’s a small price to pay for pursuing friendships that are safe and trusted, in which gossip has no place. Learning to refrain from and call out gossip among our close, trusted friends is a practice that will deepen the trust we have in each other and allow us to feel safe in an environment that prioritizes authentic and healthy relationships.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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