Gossip part two: How to deal with gossip

You walk into the staffroom at breaktime, looking forward to a nice warm lunch in a sunny spot on the couch. But just as you tuck into last night’s lasagne, you see the staffroom gossip making a beeline for you. Her eyes are dancing with excitement.

“Oh my gosh!” she says, in a conspiratorial whisper. “You will not believe what I just heard!” You groan inwardly. You have no doubt you won’t believe it.

Many of us have friends or colleagues that we’ve come to recognise as insatiable gossips. They’ve always got a story, usually from a dubious (or unnamed) source, generally derogatory, and always about someone who’s not there at the time. You hate to be associated with her behaviour, but how do you deal with gossip?

    1. What’s the point?

      Without being confrontational, ask your friend why she’s sharing this story with you. Is she trying to help someone in need? Is she planning a special surprise for this person in which this information becomes pertinent? This could cause her to reflect on her intentions and realise that she doesn’t actually have a good reason for talking.

    2. Don’t be that friend.

      Most of us have that one mate. When we hear an interesting piece of gossip, she who jumps to mind. “I have just got to tell Sarah,” you say to yourself. Why? Because you know Sarah appreciates a good piece of gossip and would just love to get her hands on this. We recommend making sure that you don’t become ‘Sarah’. You don’t want to be seen as a safe landing place for gossip, or that’s what you’ll become. If you act too interested or excited by the news, your friend is more likely to share something like that with you again. If you brush it off or allow for a little awkward silence after she’s shared the story, she’s more likely to move on to a more rewarding listener.

    3. Change the topic.

      If your friend says to you: “I heard that the principal is looking for a way to replace Mr Davis as department head because he’s doing a bad job,” you could say: “Oh, is that so. Gosh, traffic was crazy this morning wasn’t it?” She’ll get the point soon enough.

    4. Do I need to pass it on?

      This is a question to ask yourself. Once you’ve heard the story, however juicy or interesting it may be, is there a point in repeating it? Do you need to pass this information on, and if so, why? If you discover that a fellow teacher is a convicted felon who has been hiding his identity, then you have a responsibility to share the news. The point, in this case, is to protect the children from a potentially dangerous man.

      However, if you hear that Susie’s father is having an affair with Billy’s mother, then unless you are planning to confront one of the parents concerned, there is little point in sharing the so-called news.

    5. ‘How do you know that?’

      If none of the subtle approaches are working and you’re really getting over it, try asking: “How do you know that is true?” or “Were you there at the time this happened?” Even better, when it’s appropriate you could say: “Did you know that [the person whom you are gossiping about] is a good friend of mine?” Watch the direction of that conversation change instantly.

Most of us are interested in people – that’s part of why we became teachers – so a good story will raise our curiosity. Even so, try to resist the urge to join in staffroom gossip. When you’re tempted, try to imagine how you would feel if you walked in on a friend having the same conversation about you. That’s often the quickest way of realising it’s not worth it!