Talking about others behind their back is a bad habit to have. Often it encourages gossip, rumors, and criticism that we normally wouldn’t say to a person’s face.
What do we have to gain from this? Not much but some cheap entertainment.
Maybe we’ll get some laughs and praise from our peers, but talking about others behind their back is a net loss for our relationships as a whole.
To start, it makes us two-faced and hypocritical. We’re nice and respectful to someone when we are with them, but then behind their backs we paint a different picture.
How can we maintain a healthy relationship with someone if we criticize them when they aren’t around? I don’t think we can.
Also, gossiping makes us look bad. A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that people are seen as less likeable and less trustworthy when they gossip about others.
So not only does gossiping hurt our relationships with those who gossip about – it also hurts the relationships with those who we gossip to.
If you want to criticize someone, it’s way more constructive to do it directly to them, as well as in a respectful manner.
At least that gives the person a chance to take your words and turn them into something positive. Because if your criticism never reaches the person you’re criticizing, then what good can really come of it?
Most importantly, if you’re going to talk behind someone’s back at all, you should find something good to say about the other person.
This is because what you say about others affects people’s expectations. If you tell someone that John is an “insensitive asshole,” then that person is going to approach John with the expectation that he’s going to be mean and rude.
The problem with this is that the expectations we build can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We go into a conversation expecting someone to be a certain way, and that can cause us to speak and act in ways that reinforce those expectations.
Because of what we were told, we now think John is a bad dude, so we keep ourselves guarded and distant when we’re around him. He interprets that as meaning you don’t like him, so he reciprocates by also being apathetic and distant toward you. Then — you interpret that response as proof that he is a mean and rude person.
This is just one simple example of how our expectations can have a feedback effect on how people treat us.
So if we’re going to talk about others at all, we should try our best to build positive expectations rather than negative ones. Focus on the good in people, and by doing that you can help bring out those characteristics more.
I challenge you over the course of the next few days to pay extra close attention to when you talk about others behind their back.
If you’re about to say something negative – gossip, rumor, or criticism – then try your best to avoid saying anything about the person at all. Or, if you really want to talk about the person, make sure it is something kind, respectful, and positive.
A general rule to follow is that if you’re not willing to say something in front of someone, you probably shouldn’t say it at all.
Learn all the tools for building healthy relationships and navigating your social world in A Roadmap to Relationships