We’ve all been in a crowd where someone starts doing the sassy finger and going into hater mode. “Did you hear about our dear so-and-so in Christ? Because not to be a gossiping jerk, but I’m about to be a gossiping jerk.”
It’s not too hard to stop your own mouth (simple: don’t start), but when someone else among friends starts going off on gossip, it gets awkwardly difficult to control. It’s not enough to just change subjects or step away.
So then, some ways to shut this down.
1) Generously explain for the other person.
Gossip is all about dehumanizing the other person to paint a false cartoon. The gossiper is attempting to build on a possible nugget of truth buried under exaggerations and embellishments — but if you can flesh out both sides, then the gossip loses much of its power.
Explain that we just don’t know this other person’s history. We don’t know how they were screwed up by their parents, if they’re depressed or suicidal, if they’re desperate in finances, if they’re taking care of a sick family member, if they’re in counseling or on medicine, or some other motive we just can’t know. This is more than just sympathy — this is reminding us that we’re all human, we’re all broken, and we make the same mistakes.
2) Relate to the other person.
It’s as simple as saying, “You know, I’ve done the same thing. We’ve probably all done something like that. I mean unless you’re perfect.”
If you want to dig, add: “I don’t think anyone can possibly be outside of God’s sovereign grace. I mean if you’re not, then no one is.”
3) De-fang silly tactics.
It’s easy to imitate another person’s voice with a ridiculous high-pitched falsetto. Just reply, “You and I both know they don’t sound like that.”
Expert-gossipers also have a roundabout way of sounding courteous, as if they’re doing a favor by yapping somebody’s business. There’s this slick way of compensating for trash-talk by suddenly throwing in some nice platitude, like saying “We need to pray for them.” Call that out, too. “It still sounds like you’re being a jerk.”
4) Rumors are just rumors.
Most of the time, gossip is mere speculation. It’s a tabloid. The easiest thing here is to expose the lie by asking questions. “How do you know that? You only heard about it? From someone else who heard from where? So you’re making it up?”
5) If you know the other person, celebrate all the good they are.
This will be sort of a verbal firefight. Without taking anyone’s side, simply go positive. Maybe this other person has actually done a lot of good for you and your friends, for their family, for the church. Maybe they’re funny, gentle, good with kids, and doing much better than two years ago. This person is more than the unfair rumors.
6) Pray for the other person.
The sneakiest thing you can do, especially if the gossiper says, “We should pray for them,” is to actually pray for them. On the spot. Or in the very next meeting. Go in a circle, and ask the gossiper to finish it off. It’ll be the most awkward prayer you’ve ever heard, and trust me: you will love every second of it.
7) Just call it out.
Just do what everyone else is hoping you’ll do: be the courageous person who is willing to do the uncomfortable. Do what Jesus would do if he was standing there: the gentle backhand of rebuke.
“You’re gossiping right now, and it’s making us all feel weird, and they’re my friend too, and we know you’re better than how you’re talking, so please stop. I love you bro, but that’s enough.”
It doesn’t matter if someone thinks you’re being a party-pooping prude. In the long run, people will trust you more: because you’re the one who defends others behind their back and you don’t let anyone get away with loose lips. No matter how uptight you look, you’ll be earning respect where it counts.