Awkward moments arise when we are placed in a position of hearing gossip about our friends.
You can be exposed to some harsh truths in instances when the people gossiping aren’t aware of the relationship(s) you have with those they gossip about. The truths you’re exposed to will include discovering how others truly feel about your friends, and learning of things your friends have done and said which you weren’t aware of. Often times, there’s no telling how valid the gossip about your friends is. Conceptualizing and managing the gossip that you hear is thereby a tricky undertaking.
This article aims to explore two questions:
The first, is whether you should defend your friends in the face of damaging gossip being spread about them.
The second, is whether you should tell your friends what you’ve heard being said about them.
The closer you are to those who’ve become the victim of gossip, the more you’ll want to defend them and tell them what you’ve heard. You should carefully consider whether that’s the correct course of action however, as other approaches may be counter-intuitively more effective at managing the situation.
This article adopts a principal assumption that the end-goal of your actions in this situation should serve to benefit your friend who’s the unfortunate subject of disheartening gossip.
Should You Defend Them?
Visualize the situation of hearing damaging gossip about your friends. Though it may be solely about the friend(s) in question, being exposed to this behavior hurts us too for some odd reason. Perhaps the pain comes from the act of our friends being devalued by someone else disrespecting our ability to select who we’re friends with. The more damaging and truthful the information you hear about your friends is, the more that information challenges your selection of that friend. It seems that this rise in personal investment encourages us to develop a desire to defend our friends (thereby proving our choice to befriend them to be correct).
So should you do it? Should you put a stop to all the damaging dialogue that you hear about your friends?
First, you should simulate the situation in which you do defend them. Though you may put a stop to that specific conversation, you will be labeled and excluded from future conversations of this sort. You’d thereby not divert and reeducate the notion that others have of your friend, but would only alter time and place in which they voice those notions.
In most cases, knowing, and being around this certain truth thereby seems to be a wiser position to place yourself in. Be careful of being labelled as an outsider in these situations and listen without contributing to the conversation. If asked for your opinion, remain neutral, and simply say something along the lines of, “Oh interesting, I didn’t know that.” The need to defend your friend in that moment should not overpower the need to hear everything others think about them. Listen to the gossipers’ opinions in their entirety, as the collection of that evidence is a prerequisite in advising your future action.
There are times in which the gossip being spread is so demonstrably false, that even the label of opinion doesn’t protect those who spew it. When electing to step in, don’t give the gossipers a chance to figure out your friendship status with the subject of that gossip by themselves. Publicizing your relationship with whom the gossip is about will block the gossipers from feeling the glee that comes with discovering that revelation themselves.
Explain that you realize yourself to may be biased due to your relationship with the individual, and that you recognize the capacity for there to be differing opinions on the same subject. Explain however, the facts they blatantly have wrong and simply correct the factual record without stating your personal opinions when you can manage.
Should You Tell Them?
After the gossip session has concluded – and your friend has been berated to the bone – it comes time to decide whether you should tell your friend about what you’ve heard. This is not only a difficult decision to make if you care for your friend’s emotional well-being, it’s also a temptation that’s difficult to avoid.
Ask yourself what exposing the opinions you’ve collected will give birth to. Will your friend seek revenge? Will your friend be saddened by the opinions of others? Will your friend benefit from the information at hand and be able to positively adjust how they conduct themselves at the workplace? The protection of your friend’s success must be paramount in the decision that you make at this time.
The information that you should disclose should always be actionable; with there being a direct path to positive results for the resulting actions.
Analyze whether what is being said about them will damage them more remaining undisclosed or whether it’ll do more harm disclosing that information.
For example, if co-workers are gossiping about potentially career-damaging information then telling your friend about it may be a good idea. If the nature of the gossip you’ve heard stems purely from the anecdotal and personal opinions of others, there may not be any benefit in voicing what you’ve heard.
Taking your friend’s potential reactions into account is a necessary step in the process. Elect yourself to be their unbiased guardian. Even the most anecdotal and opinionated gossip can entice a damaging reaction on your friend’s part. In such a case, you’d thereby do more harm than good. Your friend can react emotionally. They may confront those who spoke ill of them while incriminating themselves even more in the process. They may even be affected by these revelations in a way which negatively affects their daily life (depression).
On the other hand, if you expose the fact that others are trying to get your friend fired from their job, then their timely reaction to that information can benefit them greatly.
As you can tell, the answer to this question floats in the muddy waters of context.
Analyze the truth of what you’ve heard for yourself. Separate opinion from what is true. If you see truth in others’ comments about your friend after analyzing your friend’s behavior yourself, then it may be good to voice these truths as if they came from you.
If others have been gossiping about how creepy your friend acts when they’re alone with the opposite sex with you having noticed that as well, then commenting on that can be a good idea. If you agree with what has been said about your friend, then there is no point in telling them you’ve heard it from others. It is a truth that you believe as well, thereby you should tell your friends this truth as if it comes from you. In doing so, you’ll limit the emotional reaction your friend has to this truth (by not seeking revenge over the ones who have gossiped), and they’d be more likely to make a change in their behavior as the truth has come from someone they respect.
The answer to this question therefore depends on you answering three questions first:
- Will your friend’s reaction to this information serve to benefit them?
If yes, then tell them. If not, then don’t tell them. Benefit in this case can encompass a wide variety of things (incrimination, emotion, sadness, revenge, opinion, etc.), so make your choice carefully.
- Is the information you’ve heard objectively damaging, or is it the subjective opinion of another?
If yes (such as a potential of getting fired from a job), then tell them.
- Do you also believe what you’ve heard?
If yes, tell them as if this information comes from you, not the gossip of others. If no, then resort to the two questions above.