It can change your life

Most of us gossip or complain on occasion, whether it’s in the workplace… with family… or among friends. It can seem like a harmless way to make conversation or let off steam, particularly when we have valid complaints that we feel deserve to be heard.

Whatever our reasons, gossiping and complaining usually are mistakes. They can undermine the trust, unity or morale of a group… make us seem negative and/or disloyal… and cause those around us to pay us less heed when we voice more important complaints in the future.

Exception: Complaints can be useful and constructive if they are directed to those in a position to do something about them. For example, it is futile to complain to your spouse about your employer’s new billing system, but complaining to the head of the company’s billing department could solve the problem.

WHY WE DO IT

Gossip is rooted in insecurity — we are most likely to gossip when we feel hurt, offended or frightened. Gossip really is a form of manipulation, a way of building a case against someone by bringing individuals into cahoots to adopt the new theory.

Example: John hears that Sam, a coworker with whom he doesn’t get along, is late to a client meeting. Rather than find out the facts and deal directly with Sam, John reports to his colleagues that Sam was late to the meeting, saying that this is just another example of Sam’s carelessness and lack of leadership skills. John wants his colleagues to “buy into” his theory that Sam is not a strong leader. In reality, Sam had car trouble and called the client to leave a message that he would be late.

In truth, gossip is a coward’s way of dealing with something or someone. The individual doesn’t have the courage to confront the situation head-on but instead goes “underground.” That’s unfortunate, because gossip often represents important issues that need to be addressed.

Complaining can be a response to feelings of insecurity as well. The complainer’s goal is to draw sympathetic responses from listeners, validating the complainer’s belief that he has been treated poorly.

BREAK THE HABIT

When you feel like gossiping and complaining…

Remind yourself that gossiping/complaining is a cowardly response to a problem. Moaning about a problematic person or situation to a third party can seem safer and easier than taking action to solve the problem, but this moaning will not improve your life. At best, it might make you feel better for a moment.

Recognize that gossiping is a sign that you need to make a change, and then summon up the courage to do it.

Determine who has the power to solve your problem (or to help you solve it). This person might be your boss… your spouse… the individual engaged in behavior that is bothering you… a close friend or associate of this person… a trusted ally who has a knack for problem solving… a local government official or politician, etc.

Examples: We might have to tell a boss that his new policy is flawed… or our spouse that his behavior is inappropriate. Once you have identified the person you need to talk with and resolve to speak to him, your newfound sense of control should help dissolve the insecurities that might have led to gossiping or complaining.

Frame your conversation with this person in a way that increases the odds of a positive result. Avoid accusations, righteous speeches and blame, which trigger defensive or angry responses.

Consider the issue from the opposite side before saying anything to the person, then present your complaint as something you, personally, think should be done differently, not as a matter of black and white.

Wait until this person is alone before raising the subject to minimize the chance of embarrassing him. Open the conversation by asking for permission to discuss a difficult issue.

Example: Each time a former boss handed me my paycheck, he said to me, “I can’t believe that I’m paying you this much.” He seemed to be saying that I wasn’t worth the money, which really rankled me. I caught myself before I complained to my coworkers. Instead, I walked into the boss’s office and asked, “Can I talk to you about something that I have a problem with?” When he said “yes,” I told him that the quip seemed to imply that I wasn’t earning my money. The boss quickly apologized and explained that he simply meant that he had never before paid any employee what he was paying me. He thanked me for speaking up rather than letting the problem fester, and he never made the remark again.

At the end of each day, ask yourself if there was anything that bothered you that day that you failed to take steps to correct. Then make a point to confront these issues head-on the following day so that they don’t have a chance to intensify.

Refuse to listen to gossip or complaints. Listening only encourages those around us to continue to gossip and complain… and the more those around us gossip and complain, the greater the odds that we will be tempted to join in.

If someone complains or gossips to you, ask how he would like you to help correct the situation. This can turn complaints into problem-solving sessions.

If someone continues to gossip or complain, say that this really isn’t any of your business and that you would prefer not to discuss it. Be polite, but leave no doubt about your position.

Encourage openness in the groups that you lead. Ask other group members for their input. When group members feel that they can bring problems to those who can correct them, they have less reason to complain and gossip to others.