I have been in situation where person X start telling me personal stuff about person Y and judging them for those things. It's plain complaining behind someone's back and I don't even know how much factual it can be. It might change my perspective of person Y.

But mostly in this situation when it's uncalled complaining which come out of nowhere, I want to tell them to shut up but without being rude. As I want to keep my terms with person X good too.

I even tried saying "It's their life, let's ignore it", but I got reply like "but he is doing this and that". How to tackle such situation?

  • 1
    Maybe the question is: how much does this matter to, or affect, person X? Is he asking for help in dealing with his own problem? Dec 14, 2017 at 15:03
  • 2
    What's the setting? Time with family members. Social setting? Work talk? Some drunken stranger sitting next to you on a bus? Dec 14, 2017 at 15:22
  • Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:46

9 Answers 9


Things you want to say:

  • your impressions of the person do not match

  • you do not know, but suspect it might not be true or at least exaggerated

  • you are not interested in this discussion

So if the person starts ranting wait for the first pause and then clarify these things in a calm tone:

That's not an experience I had with him/her yet so I can't help you with this. I would suggest you talk to him/her about it directly.

If they persist, continue telling them the exact same thing: you don't mind, you can't help them, they should resolve the issue with the person directly.

Other than that try to avoid contact, but in my experience most people will stop if I continuously say that.


Generally, there are such people around us which we can't really avoid. And since everybody got someone to complain about, we always end up engaging in this kind of conversation.

So, to stop someone from complaining about other person, try to change the topic instead of directly saying "let's ignore it". For example,

Oh, gheez. I thought you were going to tell me about something happier. So, what's new in your life?


Hey, did you notice that [use something positive]

You can come up with more couple of conversation changer. In this way, you can imply that you are not interested in that topic and want to talk about something else. Changing the topic is a good way to maintain your relationship with person X and person Y.


Why not trying Non Violent Communication : "I prefer not to talk about him/her when (s)he's not here". Because that actually is your wish, quite simple.

It should make the person you're with understand that you do not feel comfortable, and move the focus onto the present situation rather than on a judgement about the person who's not there ...

  • 3
    "Why not trying Non Violent Communication" - isn't that what you're supposed to do, basically all the time? Does that have some special meaning, different from the separate words themselves?
    – Xen2050
    Dec 14, 2017 at 20:22
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    @Xen2050 Take it as "guidelines" and methods : e.g. use "I feel" "I want", express your feelings rather than interpreting the situation, that's how I understand (and try to use) it (this is an official movement : see cnvc.org)
    – St3an
    Dec 14, 2017 at 21:28
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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that.
    – Mithical
    Mar 14, 2018 at 21:02
  • @ArwenUndómiel I've just edited my post :-)
    – St3an
    Mar 15, 2018 at 15:06
  • @Xen2050 "Non Violent Communication" is a specific method of communication. The name "Non Violent Communication" is pretty confusing, unfortunately. Feb 15, 2021 at 0:44

If I want to stop somebody from gossiping to me, I look at them sadly and say

I wonder what you say about me when I'm not around.

This usually works. Whenever I use this line, I get protestations from gossiper that I'm a really neat person and that they wouldn't dream of gossiping about me.

The line works on several levels. It's not rude but indicates your aversion to gossip. It also gently lets the gossiper know that they may have lost points with you because you suspect them of talking about you behind your back. Finally, the gossiper may catch a little bit of empathy and realize that other folks may be gossiping about them.


You tell them that you're sorry, but you don't want to gossip about someone else.

Using the word gossip (because it IS gossip) sends a very clear message that this is not a correct behavior.

Repeat it every time the person brings it up so that they take you seriously and don't engage in it at all. Don't agree with this person, don't defend the other person, just don't discuss the other person at all.

If your friend still talks about the other person then remind your friend that you've had this discussion and that you won't talk about someone behind their back.

This is the ASSERTIVE approach. It is neither agressive or yielding, but it gets the point across.


If you want a person to stop telling you something you don't like, but you also don't want to sound rude, than tell them the problem is you feeling confused to listen to the particular facts, rather then them telling it.

It's absolutely not rude to tell them something like:

"I'm happy that you want to share your thought and feelings about X, but I don't really feel comfortable speaking about that person (in your case) without her presence, because I [choose one]:

  • can't ask the person directly
  • don't like to speak about them at all
  • don't like speaking about people
  • don't find it interesting

etc... you name it. So the person, you are talking with, will get that you don't like the flow of your conversation in the least rude way possible.

If you state that several times and the person still ignores it and keep speaking on the topic that you dislike, so I can hardly imagine any actions that

  1. won't be rude;

  2. will keep you in good terms with the person.

So my advice doesn't cover that case, but it is worth trying anyway.


The milder approach:

I'm not comfortable talking about that.

This makes it about you -- no criticism of the other person. My religion has prohibitions on many types of gossip, and this is what I usually say to disengage.

A slightly stronger approach, suggested by elrobis, is:

Eh, it's not really my business.

That's still about you (you don't want to pry) but can carry a tiny hint of rebuke with it if it's really not the other person's business either. Decide on a case-by-case basis if that's an advantage or a disadvantage.

The stronger approach, for use if the previous doesn't work or this happens a lot with this particular speaker:

I'm not comfortable hearing gossip about other people. It makes it harder for me to treat them neutrally. (Or some other short explanation if you prefer.) Let's talk about something else.

As some other answers said, naming it -- "gossip" -- might get through in a way that just changing the subject or avoiding the problem might not. If this is somebody who, if asked "is it ok to gossip about people behind their backs?" would say "no", then you're helping him to recognize that he's doing something he doesn't want to do. If he would say "yeah, so what?" then naming it probably won't help, but it'll at least make it clear how you view the conversation.


In Judaism, this question is discussed in the context of the prohibition of gossip. Tractate Ketubot 5: advices: Stick your fingers in your ears!

This reaction is theatric, makes it clear that you don't want to hear what is being said, and is non-confrontational in that you are not attacking the person who is speaking. If you are asked why you are doing this, you can simply say, "In order not to hear things I don't want to hear."


I had a friend like this. I liked her, but she was a downer. I couldn't simply recuse myself because I liked her and genuinely wanted to engage. I just didn't want to engage in a negative way. Perhaps instead of removing yourself from the bad cycle you could actively try to create a new cycle.

Person Y keeps taking credit for my work!

Humm, I've never seen that and he never seems to take credit for my work. I do like how snappliy he dresses!

Person X may be offended that you're not engaging in the conversation by not indicating that you've heard, but it's possible to indicate you've heard without agreeing, so if you want to be conversational about it you can indicate that you've heard, and your take on it before introducing your positive comment.

Person Y is so loud!

That has never been my impression. What I have noticed though is that person Y is very kind.

Person X may find this jarring and uncomfortable. They could choose to complain to a more sympathetic ear, but who knows maybe you can help break the cycle of negativity!

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