You have likely experienced friendly chit-chat in the barn aisle that turns to gossip about someone. Perhaps you have added your two-cents, and not concerned yourself with the potential impact because the person being gossiped about is unlikely to find out about it. Until they do… or it’s you.
Gossiping creates a state of agitation and tension. When unflattering talk is being thrown around behind people’s backs it leaves little room for positive thinking. It focuses on the negative and adds unnecessary complexity to our lives. The complexity is one of the core reasons that people engage in gossip; a need to create significance.
Are you guilty of gossiping? The answer is yes. We all are. The tendency to want to know what everyone is up to is primal. It’s natural to want to keep tabs on the people we spend our time with, like the people in our barn or riding community. Although it may be temporarily enjoyable, gossip results in self-inflicted attrition of what could have otherwise been strong, fulfilling friendships and alliances – something we all need.
One of the interesting aspects of gossip is that it doesn’t exist without participation. We can choose to participate or shut it down. The next time the conversation shifts to gossip, try this;
- Change the subject. Simply changing the subject is a powerful and graceful method of discouraging hurtful chatter. If the gossiper continues to bad mouth another person you might respond by saying, “This sounds like something you should discuss with THEM.” or, “I would have had to be there to really understand both sides.” Followed by another change of subject.
- Say something positive about the target of the gossip. Pointing out a person’s good qualities exposes the unfair nature of any judgment or criticism that’s being tossed around. Refocusing the collective attention on what is good vs. being gossiped about is a great pattern interrupt.
- Refocus the conversation on the person gossiping. Showing interest in their horse, or asking them questions about their lives can refocus them on their own significance instead of talking about others.
- Take a personal stand. Simply stating, “I am not comfortable with talking about so-and-so when they are not around” is a stance that makes a big impact. Others will quickly back pedal in response, and make excuses for the gossip; you have made it clear that you want to communicate on a higher level.
To shift a barn dynamic from a gossip-fest to a more positive level, can absolutely start with you. Even if there are some big-mouthed culprits at your barn, if you shift the conversation with others into a more positive and supportive dynamic, the gossip will have less of a place to germinate and take hold. Unfortunately, for some of you, the biggest gossip head may be the barn owner or trainer. In those instances where they have authority in the barn environment, try a more direct approach. A personal favorite:
“O my gosh! If you talk about so-and-so like that, I wonder what you say about me? What do you say about me?”
And then say nothing.
And then after the back-pedal, you can ask – “Does so-and-so know that you think that way about them? You should tell her, and get it off your chest.”
Turning it back on their need for leadership is very effective at not only deflecting this instance of gossip, but future chapters as well.
So my Haute Rider, putting the kibosh on the gossip is up-to-you! Are you going to take the haute-road? Open the door to talking about bigger, brighter, and higher-energy things for you and your barn mates.