This topic has been on my to-do list for a little while; it has been the topic of at least a couple of other bloggers; being the target of gossip is a fairly prevalent problem. Some people love to talk about other people. In some cases, people talk about other people because they care about them, and they aren’t saying anything negative about them.
People don’t know everything there is to know about relating to other people, so it is common for people to ask questions, explain situations and seek advice. Getting clarification about people, particularly the more difficult people in our lives, is not necessarily a bad thing. We all have difficult people we have to deal with.
Some of them we just can’t avoid because they are family members; some because they are people we work with and are subordinate to. So we watch them, try to figure out how best to relate to them, and in some cases, that means asking questions of those who may know them better. Understanding can breed more tolerance after all.
But out of an interest in trying to find some sort of common ground, we can also say more than we should about ourselves. Difficult and unpleasant people are like sponges; they soak up the information you give them, especially if they think they can use it against you later. When dealing with such people, don’t give them anything useful.
If it will potentially compromise you with other people, don’t let that person ever know about it. Difficult people can tend to be gossipers. Have you ever noticed that the most difficult, most unpleasant people tend to complain a lot about other people? It’s like a personal hobby. Collect juicy tidbits of information, gossip, and complain nonstop.
In many cases they put their own worst personal characteristics on display with complaints about other people. If someone is superstitious for instance, then whoever they like to talk about becomes “superstitious”. If someone is a back-stabbing gossiper, the person they are talking about becomes a “back-stabbing gossiper”.
This is not to say that difficult or unpleasant people are totally bad. They can be quite engaging and friendly at least for a while. I have known a few who were pretty funny to hang around with and talk to, helpful, knowledgeable. The unpleasantness and difficulty tends to come from a deep insecurity that may or may not be hidden from others.
The problem is we can’t always tell when someone else is insecure; and some people are insecure about some things but not others. The thing is, gossip is a means of trying to control and manipulate other people in a given environment. Gossip is meant to influence others; usually to influence one person to like us, by sabotaging others.
If on the other hand someone asks you a question about someone and you answer as best you can given certain circumstances, this is not gossip. A statement of fact, as best you know it is not an attempt to make another person look bad. A conversation between two people that is about someone one of them cares about is hardly gossip either.
Motive really is everything. If two people actually have your best interests at heart, then it’s not gossip. If on the other hand someone is misrepresenting something to someone, presenting information in the worst possible context and letting someone else run with it; that is gossip. Especially if there is clearly a negative bias or attribution error.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do for yourself is expect that people will talk about you. It will be whatever they can find to criticize you for, and yes this includes people who pretend to be your friend, or at least friendly. Some people are like that; they have nothing better to do than find fault with everybody else around them.
Don’t feel bad for you, feel bad for them. How sad is it that someone needs to feel superior to everyone else around them in order to feel good about themselves? How sad is it that someone has to tear you down in order to achieve that sense of superiority? If they are tearing others down to you, they are tearing you down to them too; expect it.
Only a fool would spend all of their time and energy working so hard to run back and forth tearing other people down though. I say fool because they think they are being so clever. They think you don’t know what is really going on, and maybe you didn’t, maybe you found out the hard way. That’s okay, live and learn, now you know. Joke’s on them.