It’s an unnerving experience hearing information you shared with a close friend make its way back to you from another source. How should you respond? Is it gossip if it stays inside your friend group?
The literal Mirriam-Webster definition of gossip is:
A person who repeats stories about other people.
Talk or rumors involving the personal lives of other people.
This definition very clearly reveals that the intent behind sharing information that doesn’t belong to you doesn’t need to be ill in order to make it gossip. If it’s not yours to share, it’s gossip, regardless of who you are sharing it with. Here is a helpful breakdown of how to call out gossip when you hear it.
Does the person who's sharing your information clearly have your best interests at heart in other circumstances? If yes, it’s time for an intentional and clear conversation about how the information you share with them is reserved for just them. It may be hard to confront the over-sharer, but it’s an important conversation if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with them. If it happens again, it’s probably time for some boundaries and a new set of expectations.
Sometimes, people share other’s information because it helps them feel connected to the person they are in conversation with and they know that they both have the individual’s best in mind. Even still, it comes across as using other people like cell towers of flesh and bone, bouncing information from one peak to the other, and flashing red lights of connection through the dark. But when you live your life in a small circle of friends or a community of people who care intentionally for one another, the protection of other people’s information becomes a line that you must learn to walk. People talk. Sharing happens. Abiding by the dictionary definition of gossip is a great place to start.
Call it out, even if it scares you
The practice of calling out what you hear can be tough, especially if you’re afraid of conflict, but it allows for you and the other person or persons involved to create a blank slate of expectations between you. Clear expectations are some of the most valuable characteristics of strong relationships. By practicing the tough things, you’re adding relational value to an already established connection. If calling out gossip goes unspoken, it can create lasting bitterness between you and that person you were once so connected to.
Be mindful of what you share with who
In order to protect your information and someone else's, you also may want to establish a closer confidant you trust to be your sounding board before sharing with just anyone. From there, you can determine when the time is right (if ever) to share with a larger group. The truth of any community is that not everyone has the same level of relationship. So when you intentionally invite another person into your story, you’re creating a stronger network within your community by choosing how information gets delivered and shared, honoring a smaller room for error.
Own your mistakes
Ultimately, you know what you can put up with. You are also responsible for owning what you say and apologizing when you cross the line in sharing information that isn’t yours. This is another opportunity for growth in your community because you have the ability to set a precedent of asking for forgiveness and admitting that you did something that put your relationship with another in jeopardy.
Honor healthy vulnerability
Vulnerable people make vulnerable communities. Vulnerability is strengthened by intentionality and awareness, so don’t be afraid to put into practice what is going to best honor your friendships and your community when it comes to sharing another’s information, even if it’s good news!