I've had some serious stuff to handle over the last month or so. And it sadly wasn't the stuff you could keep easily quiet. To make things worse, the main actor that created this mess has apparently a notorious reputation and there's plenty of gossip about them to keep people talking about this for hours.

So, all the family, half the town, they all knew what was happening with me and wanting to gossip about this other person at me. And while I didn't mind them asking once in a while what was happening and how things were going, what did massively annoy me is that I did not figure out a way to get these conversations to stick to the facts.

I've had dozens of conversations with family and family friends, and they all went something like this: when asked for the current status of things, I would give people the list of facts. I would honestly tell them A, B and C had already happened and I was waiting on certain people/organisations to tell me about X, Y and Z. Just imagine someone rattling of a grocery list: That was me. After that not working a few times, I also started to add little sentences like 'And that's all I know for now' or 'I'll see what happens next, speculating only drives me crazy'.

Sadly, none of that worked. The conversations invariably ended up with the other person going "And what if..." or "I heard rumors that..." with some harebrained speculation on how bad things could potentially get or already are. I ended up handling these by trying to say that I didn't know what would happen if, only to have people speculate even further on what could happen if. I tried handling them by saying it is speculation and wouldn't be helpful, only to have people switch to another 'what-if'.

I think the breaking point for me was when someone said 'You seem stressed by all this' and then continued adding more what-ifs and gossip on worst outcomes. I wanted to strangle that person (don't worry, didn't do it.). At the same time, even plain out telling this person that yes I was stressed and could they please not add to it by speculating/gossiping didn't stop them.

To be clear, I don't mind the conversation continuing. But it should stick to the facts, which means the only way I can see one continuing is with someone asking me things like 'What does this term mean' or 'What is the process you just mentioned like' instead of gossiping or speculating about possible consequences.

Most of these conversations took place when randomly encountering family or family friends. Physically walking away from the conversation or bluntly ending it with 'If you're going to gossip or speculate I'm going to go now' isn't an option, as that would be perceived as rude instead of polite.

So, given my previous approaches and them not working, apart from physically walking away from the conversation to signify it is over, what can I do better to make a conversation stick to the facts and not degrade into gossip and speculation?

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    @Ael they are mostly in-person though 1 or 2 were over WhatsApp. As for where they take place, that was mostly when encountering family while e.g. visiting grandparents, when family came to our place.. but a lot was just when I encountered people on the streets and they stopped me to talk. So I wouldn't mind if answers focused on that first and foremost: Dealing with these people while you encounter them outside.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 12, 2020 at 8:00
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    @Ael yes. That's why just walking away isn't really an option, as are the more blunt ways of cutting off the conversation like saying 'If you only have gossip and speculation, I'm going to go now'
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 12, 2020 at 9:31
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    @Ael : Socrates triple filter is explained here (and many other places). Roughly, if what you want to tell me is neither true, good or useful , why bother telling me?
    – OldPadawan
    Oct 12, 2020 at 11:25
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    @OldPadawan that's all nice and well, but you can apply that to yourself or to someone asking you whether they should share some gossip with you. How do you apply it to people that have already shared gossip? I also have an inkling my approach so far already meets all three (letting people know it's speculation - true, letting people know it only stresses me out/isn't helpful - good or useful).. but it's been proving very hard to get people to basically apply the filter to themselves before speaking! If Szczerzo has experience in doing so, I would be glad to hear.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 12, 2020 at 11:32
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    @Ael I haven't really. It would be a lie to claim that talking about the whole thing stresses me. It didn't, the whole thing is stressful in that it adds some stress and uncertainty to my life. But talking about the facts of that does not increase the stress levels. So I can't really use 'it stresses me to talk about this' as an excuse when the truth is that it only annoys me to talk about this in an unfactual way.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 14, 2020 at 7:16

1 Answer 1


I think the situation triggered your relatives and friends imagination, and that they were simply assuming you'd be willing to be part of imagining things also as kind of a shared activity. Some people (I'd include myself) also get ideas about how to behave in the future when they have a clear view of the possible outcomes, that include a degree of what-if and projections.

If you don't want to be part of this activity, because by nature the projection stresses you out, the problem is difficult to solve by any of the two ends, your intrapersonal problem with speculation, that is personal and out of scope, and other's natural and willing-to-help behavior, which is hard to change.

I think asking a person not to speculate or gossip wasn't effective because the person denied being gossiping/speculating. In my experience, it's difficult to obtain a fine-grain understanding from others and easier to behave so they have a rough but simpler idea of the problem.

When I had to draw a line to say no about someone good will, or declining a conversation, I usually invoked a pretext, and you are in a good position to have one. You could invoke being stressed by the topic to end conversation whenever it's not oriented the way you like it, quite simply. "I'm sorry, the topic stresses me and I'd prefer we speak about something else now".

Sometimes, when someone already started a conversation I dislike, I also have a way to notify this, that is to not acknowledge listening and having heard them like you usually do by nodding, saying yes or making eye contact. After some time, most people would stop and ask me acknowledgement, I'd drop the line I'd like to change subject equally.

I admit to some degree this could be an unsatisfying solution to the problem because they would not understand the real reason for dodging, and it's only a "saying-no" kind of answer not avoiding conversation entirely to happen (rather have a way to end it), but this would be my best try.

  • Invoking being stressed by the topic to end conversation would be a lie. I'm not additionally stressed by some stressful things being the topic of conversation, I'm annoyed by the way other people are speculating and gossiping about it. There's a big difference there and it is dishonest to ignore that and claim otherwise. I'm also not sure why you describe gossiping as a 'willing-to-help behavior'?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 14, 2020 at 7:23
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    @Tinkeringbell People would naturally assume you don't mind or possibly like them to gossip about the situation, which is why I labelled this as being willing to help (although its not exactly that, it's more that they don't see any harm in that and assume it pleasurable for both of you). When it comes to your annoyance, I must admit I frankly don't get it, and I would not expect others to get it as well. Which is why I propose lying (if you call it such) or anyway trying to find a simple explanation (if you have a more honest one that's for the best, but at least easier to relate to)
    – Diane M
    Oct 14, 2020 at 7:37

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