It feels bad to learn that someone has been gossiping about you. Here are five things you can do to shut down people who talk behind your back.
Go straight to the heart of the issue. “I’ve heard you’ve been saying some things about me and I was wondering if we could have a straight conversation about it? Is there something about our interactions that has been bothering you? I’d rather not hear about it in third person and would really appreciate it if you could tell me directly.”
Agreement to end gossip
First, make a commitment to yourself. Anytime you notice that you’re talking behind someone else’s back, stop yourself. Then, if someone else does the same, tell them, “I’ve made a commitment to avoid gossiping about other people when they aren’t there, would you be open to making a similar commitment?”
Listening is contributing
If a friend or colleague is telling you that someone else is talking behind your back, that friend was there to hear it. Tell the person reporting back to you, “She/he can’t gossip about me without an audience. Would you be willing to excuse yourself so she/he has no audience next time?” You can elaborate by sharing, “I’m not interested in gossiping about others. If she/he is talking behind my back, I’d appreciate it if you would ask her/him to talk to me directly about the issue, and not continue to listen to her/his complaint when I’m not there.”
Start by asking yourself, “Hmm, how am I contributing to this situation? How am I contributing to this person talking behind my back?” Chances are you aren’t innocent either. Maybe you also gossiped about this person, or you’ve allowed an old wound to fester without having a direct conversation about it. Or you continue to stay friends with someone who gossips about you nonstop. Being honest about your role in things is the smartest (and hardest!) comeback you can make.
If you’ve followed the four steps above and have not gossiped about the other person but she/he continues to talk behind your back, it may be that she/he is jealous and cannot be kind to you. This is a good time to set a more firm boundary with the friendship. Tell the person directly, “I won’t be friends with people who continually gossip about me.”
If you’re not friends with the person gossiping, but with the person they are gossiping to, it’s also time to set a boundary by saying, “I’m not friends with people who sit around and listen to others gossip about me continually. Would you be willing to excuse yourself the next time she/he is gossiping about me?” If the answer is “no,” it may be time to take some space in that friendship as well.