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You're with your friend Jane and you hear her talking about Eli who is not there. You start to feel uncomfortable. You are pretty sure she wouldn't be saying that if he were present. So you decide to express your discomfort:

You: Um, I don't like to gossip.

Jane: I don't either, I am just telling you what happened.

And then she goes on talking in the same manner, telling you about the details of Eli's divorce.

Gossip is like anything else. It's something people do to meet particular needs of theirs. So, as they talk about others they are really talking about themselves.

Gossip as defined in the dictionary is "to engage in idle talk or rumors, especially about the private affairs of others".

My guess about the needs someone is trying to meet by engaging in gossip is one or more of the following:

belonging (if I know private information I am in the "in" crowd),

self-acceptance (if someone else is doing worse than me, I must be okay),

connection (by talking about someone we both know we can connect),

protection (concern that what that person is doing will cost the needs of others),

stimulation (drama in someone else's life can provide sense of intensity and aliveness)

Remembering that someone engaged in gossip is attempting to meet their needs is useful to the extent that it helps you to stay connected in compassion rather than moving to right/wrong judgments. If you make a request from right/wrong it will likely come out as a demand.

Interrupting is a key skill in NVC and one I have found particularly useful when faced with gossip. You can interrupt to connect with either empathy or honest expression.

It might sound something like this:

Empathy You: Talking about Eli's divorce, I wonder if you feel sad for him?

Jane: Well, I don't know, I mean he brought it on himself. He's the one who-

You: Yea, are you frustrated wishing he had more awareness in his relationship?

Jane: He could have listened to me when I told him to get counseling.

You: So you tried to help?

Jane: Yea, I wish I could have helped more.

Honest Expression

You: Jane, hearing the details of Eli's divorce,I notice I feel uncomfortable because I want to hold him in a place of compassion and I can get muddled with details. Would you be willing to share how it affects you rather than exactly what happened?

Jane: If I don't tell you the details how will understand how it affected me?

You: Hmm, how about if I am not getting you, I will ask a question.

Jane: Oh, just forget it. You make such a big deal out of everything.

You: Yea, you'd like to just say what you want a say.

Jane: Yea, can't I just be myself around you?!

You: Are you thinking I'm judging you?

Jane: Aren't you?!

You: I'm really coming from my own needs and that doesn't involve a judgment about you. Would you like me be more clear about where my request comes from?

Jane: Yes.

You: I am really committed to holding others with compassion. And I've noticed that hearing about the details of others' affairs when they are not present has resulted in my own misinterpretations and judgments of that person. So it doesn't help me in keeping my commitment.

Jane: Yea, that happens to me sometimes too. I guess I don't even know why I am talking about it. I guess I am upset about it.

Asking someone to express themselves differently can be tricky business. People sometimes identify their mode of expression as "who they are". As a result, they hear you asking them not to be who they are. As in the example above it can take a few rounds of empathy and honest expression for this to loosen and create a space for connection to needs.

Take time now to think a time when you were recently either expressing gossip or participating passively.  In reflection, what feelings and needs were up for you at the time?  How might you have interrupted the gossip with connection?

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7 Responses

  1. Jan 11, 2013

    This dialogue is so helpful. The phrases connect with my need to be honest with my self and others while still holding others in compassion.

    The definition of the possible needs present opens my heart to others in my life.

    The dialogue also shows my how I can meet my need for integrity by staying present to my needs.

    Thanks you

  2. Jan 11, 2013
    Dee Packard

    Hi LaShelle,

    I am . . . impressed with the delicacy of your moves (in the best
    sense of the word) through this touchy situation.

    I am wondering about the important role of jackeling in such a
    situation. I heard from a trainer a long time ago about the need
    to not repress ourselves by reaching for "the good", e.g. compassion, all the time but rather to give ourselves a chance
    to express our judgements and fire. "Enjoying the jackel show" is
    what I recall Marshall called it. And when the play starts to turn
    sour, then. . . then go to feeling and most important, needs.

    This "map" then moves toward surrendering to grief that our needs weren't met (in this case, by the fellow being gossiped about), and mourning that, e.g. feeling sad about that. And then seeing what requests of ourselves or him we might make.

    What I like about this is it is lively and fun to join someone jackeling and if we are tracking the body, it doesn't last long, and
    can produce a wonderful sense of being fully alive to life in all its
    flavors. Without that process, repression of those fiery or wet
    energies can happen.

    What are your thoughts?


  3. Jan 12, 2013

    I enjoyed this dialogue as well. I've found that often when people gossip they are looking for collusion. I've learn from classes with Lashelle that collusion is not empathy. Thanks for sharing your practice with us.

  4. Jan 13, 2013

    Thank for saying Carren. So happy to be of service.

  5. Jan 13, 2013

    Hi Dee,

    Yea, I think playfully expressing the jackal can be a way to see it for what it is and disidentify with it as well as allow a sense of acceptance for our minds habitually move in that direction.

    However expressing the jackal without first naming it for what it is can go other direction. So it seems starting with something like "this is the story my mind makes up..." "My jackal voice says.." etc.

    Thanks for bringing this up, such a critical point.

  6. Jan 13, 2013
    Dee Packard

    Oh yes, yes, yes!

    When we are going about jackaling, it's vital to name that
    part of us. That alone creates a dis-identification with what
    we are doing.

    That you for that input!

    I appreciate your ongoing generosity in "talking" to us about
    the play of NVC in daily life.


  7. Jan 13, 2013

    Excellent, very informative. Confirmation .

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