When most of us hear the word "gossip," we resort to thinking about malicious rumors or a juicy secret. But gossip can generally be defined as "talking about someone who isn't present”. Whether it’s a conversation with your co-workers, or a group chat with your friends, we all gossip. And, it’s something that comes naturally for many of us.

So why do people gossip?

As social creatures, we’re hard-wired for connection. And sometimes, gossip can provide us with a sense of bonding that we all lure, regardless of whether the conversation is positive or negative. 

Some experts view gossip as evidence of cultural learning, where we learn what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. For example, if someone lies frequently and people start talking bout that person negatively, the collective criticism is intended to warn others of the consequences of lying. 

Generally speaking, most gossip falls into the “negative” category.  people gossip for a variety of reasons:

To feel superior. Many people who are insecure about themselves find temporary relief in judging others. Knowing something that others don't can feel empowering, and sometimes, that's all an uncertain gossiper needs. But, it can also make you appear untrustworthy.

They have a sadistic personality. Emotional sadism- someone who comes off as harsh, aggressive, intimidating, or demeaning is rooted in gossip. This type of character enjoys knowing that someone else is experiencing pain or misfortune, delighted that it's not happening to them.

They’re bored. When people can't generate exciting discussions based on knowledge or ideas, gossip can arouse people's interest.

Anxiety. Anxious people are more likely to spread rumors and partake in gossip, according to research. And since uncertainty or feeling out of control is significant in anxiety, gossiping can make someone get that sense of control back.

To feel like part of the group. Alongside that feeling of connection we desire, sometimes people gossip to feel like they belong to the group. Being the center of someone or a group's attention while gossiping can be compared to buying attention. Yet, this feeling of acceptance isn't based on a person's identity or personality but exclusion or maliciousness.


Coping with gossip

If you’re caught in the midst of a gossiping conversation, consider the following strategies to help you cope:

Focus on the positive. If you feel like you're drowning in negativity, talk about the positive things you know about the person being gossipped about. You'd be surprised how a shift in perspective can change the tone of the conversation.

Recognize how gossiping makes you think or feel differently. Not everyone gets excited to hear secret information about other people. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, try your best to avoid it. 

If you’re the target of hurtful gossip, take the following strategies into consideration:

Direct the gossipper directly. If someone is spreading rumors about you, address it with them. A gossiper doesn't anticipate being addressed by the person they're talking about. Assertively expressing your feelings without blaming or accusing can be an effective way to illustrate the effects of gossip. Doing so may help the person spreading the word or rumors realize the impact of their actions.

Ignore it. Sometimes, it takes more energy and effort to address it than it does. It ignores it. It's not worth addressing. For example, if you're a manager at your job, your employees will inevitably talk about you. Ultimately, rumors become less noteworthy over time, and people generally forget them over time.

De-identify from the situation. Recognize that the actions of others aren't a reflection of who you are. They are projections of the other person, whether that person is anxious or wants attention. People lash out, gossip, and focus on other people to protect themselves. 

Dealing with gossippers and being the subject of a rumor is challenging. Although you can't always control the things others say about you, you can control how you respond to them-and ultimately become resilient.