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There's a friend of mine, let's call her... Rachel. We're very close (platonic) friends, and we'll frequently hang out as part of a larger group of mixed gender (including both my girlfriend and her boyfriend). We're all in our young 20's.

She has a habit of bad-mouthing people/gossiping a lot, and I've tolerated it so far, but it's really starting to get on my nerves. For example, some things she's done in the past:

  • She'll complain about her family drama a lot, and complain about her brother.

  • She badmouths one of my friends.

I've never told her that this bothers me.

Last night, the group was hanging out and Rachel made a very snide and judgmental comment about some of her friends (who I don't know very well) having premarital sex. (Rachel is very religious) I felt like this was the last straw. This comment really bothered me because

  1. I barely know these friends of hers
  2. I don't care if they were sleeping around, it has no effect on me.
  3. I consider comments like these nothing more than gossip.

I'd tried responding with "Why do we need to know?", but I don't think this effectively discouraged gossipy comments because the rest of the group seemed to respond positively.

I'd like to know how to respond in moments like these, not just to Rachel, but also to anyone else in the future. What's the best way to respond to gossiping/bad-mouthing people that makes it really clear that I don't want to hear it?

I don't want to come across as disapproving; if that's the way they want to talk, I"m not gonna stop them. But I'd prefer that if they want to gossip they'd save it for when I'm not around, as these comments really bother me and make it hard for me to want to be around Rachel anymore.

I'm also considering texting Rachel about this and letting her know it bothered me. But I'm worried because I don't know if that would improve things, and I don't know how to do this in a tactful way with out coming across as judgmental or disapproving.

4

Hate the sin, love the sinner

The success of this approach depends on how much you like discussing theoretical problems. Shift the discourse from the "sinner" to the "sin":

Rachel: Hear this - Bob had sex with Anna! Can you believe? So typical of his stupid head.

You: I find it interesting that nowadays premarital sex is not considered taboo anymore by many people. Why is that, in your opinion? / Why do you consider sex only a matter for married couples?

This way, Rachel will still have room to vent about the corruption of this century's youth, but she'll leave Bob and Anna in peace. It may also result in some interesting discussions that involve Rachel's points of view, and this could make you know her better and strengthen your friendship.

1

Gossip is dangerous, but there is an easy way to handle it when someone starts badmouthing someone you know:

  • Without criticizing the gossiper, point to a flaw of yours that's related.

Them: "Oh and David is so mean when he gets sarcastic"

You: "You know, I have a lot of trouble with sarcasm too."

  • Now that you're criticizing yourself, use that to shift the conversation.

You: I'd really like to work on being less sarcastic and have been looking at some resources on it. One of my favorite speakers, Jack, has such a great way of being genuine.

  • Then direct the conversation back to the person with a question about something else that's related.

You: Who's one of your favorite speakers?

You focus on your own imperfections, get the conversation about something related to that, and get them talking about something else. It works really well.

If they consistently gossip, you do want to minimize contact just because gossiper burn bridges like crazy and if they're willing to criticize others when they're not around, they'll do it about you too (they can't be trusted with any secret).

1

Perhaps you might explain to Rachel that you don't want to be judging people on the basis of what other people say about them, and that you would prefer not to hear bad things about people unless they pose some kind of threat to you or someone you care about.

There's a particular stigma that has grown up around the word "judgmental". It make people afraid to deal with the unpleasantness that they experience, and which causes them distress. Sometimes you have to be a little bit judgmental. But you need to draw a line. For me, personally, the question is whether the issue in question affects me personally. Thus, if the issue is that two people who are not your children or parents or anyone whose life impacts your own in a major way are sleeping together...that's the bad kind of judgmental.

But if someone is doing something that causes you distress, then you have every right to object to being distressed. If Rachel is willing to stop her bad-mouthing, then you will continue to socialize with her. But if she isn't, you will need to sever the connection. You can't control her, but you need to make it clear that you are giving her control over whether you will continue to have a relationship with her. And you need to be clear about exactly what that control involves.

Indirect remarks like "why do we need to know" aren't going to bring this out into the open where it needs to be. But you also don't want to make it sound like you have the right to "make" her stop what she is doing. Instead, use "I" language ("I don't feel comfortable with the subject, can we change it?" "It bothers me to be criticizing people who aren't present", etc) and then it falls on her shoulders (where it belongs) to decide if she values your company enough to change her habits. If not, the sooner you put distance between you the better. It's likely to get worse, not better.

Be prepared for her to turn her sharp tongue on you, and decide beforehand how you want to respond. It's never comfortable to when unpleasant people catch you unprepared or throw you off balance. Try to imagine how you would respond:

"You have no right to criticize or judge me" "I don't think we should criticize or judge anyone, so I'd appreciate if we could keep it out of our conversation"

"I didn't know you were such a weeny that you are bothered by things like that" "I'm sorry you feel that way, I had thought we were friends, but it doesn't sound like you care anything about my feelings, so I must have been mistaken"

...and so on. It isn't possible to be completely prepared for the unpleasant turns a confrontation can take, but what helps is if you practice responding in ways that express how you feel in ways that you are comfortable with.

And that you decide beforehand what it will take for you to continue to socialize with her. What are the possible outcomes? If she says she won't bad-mouth absent people any more, but doesn't change her behavior, you might decide that's a walk-away. If she stops, then you can continue having a good relationship. But what if she cuts down for a while, but then falls back into her habits? We all need to draw our lines in the sand; with something like this it's better to draw just the one and keep your toes firmly planted.

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