Even our worst enemies don’t talk about us the way we talk to ourselves.
-Arianna Huffington, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder
Despite its bad reputation, gossip plays an important social role by reinforcing community values: it makes people feel closer to each other, it unifies people who play by the rules, it helps people get a sense of the values of their community, and it exposes the misbehavior of those who cheat on their spouses, don’t return phone calls, or take credit for other’s work.
-Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
In my memory, these were conflicting quotes, that the first denied we are ever the topic of others’ conversations. But, it only says that what people say about us isn’t as bad as we think it is. That is, people are still talking about you.
My experience confirms that people are talking. I’ve been privy to and (regretfully) a participant in enough gossipy conversations to know that, yes, people will talk about your rude, confusing or frustrating behavior.
Early on in my working life (I was probably about 19 years old), I realized that complaining about co-workers to other co-workers was more draining than encouraging. So, I tried to make it a point not to engage in these discussions. Emphasis on “try”, because I’m a human. Gossip is delicious. I’ve been frustrated with co-workers and tried to make sense of what was happening by talking about it.
In general, though, I remind myself that everyone is human. A person might be stressed by something that isn’t visible. I encourage positive reinforcement—when a co-worker does something outstanding to help me, I try to praise them in a way that their manager will notice (great for performance review time). I try to not participate in those juicy conversations. And, I do my best and try to be kind to others even when I really don’t feel like it. My purpose is to be kind, but also so that I can keep my time as the topic of gossip to a minimum. I have no delusions that my name has come up. That blunders I’ve made, my annoying quirks and professional weaknesses have all been discussed. Maybe some eyes have rolled at the mention of my name. But, I don’t worry too much about it (except that I’m writing about it here—ha!), because we’ll all have our turn. So, when the topic comes up, why don’t we extend grace, human understanding, compassion?