Can I get my friends to stop gossiping?

I live in a small town and love my friends, but recently have realized they have become more and more inclined to gossip about other friends. I am fine with the occasional gossip for fun, but after a while it just starts to feel a toxic. How can I indicate that I want them to stop gossiping so much without sounding like the uptight critical friend?

You can’t. It’s like trying to stop people from buying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue by reminding them that it’s not actually about sports. They already know, and they don’t care. Gossipers know they’re being bad; that’s like half the fun.

Gossip is fun and exciting, and like all things that are fun and exciting, it has a bad side. The bad side being that in order for the gossip to be good, there has to be someone on the wrong end of the pineapple. You’re never going to be able to stop it, and standing there with your hand on your hip, tsk tsking and waving your finger at your friends is going to accomplish one thing: it’s going to ensure that the second you leave the room, they start talking about you.

The only thing you can do is control what information you hear, and what information you repeat. Here are some guidelines to help.

  1. If things get out of hand, steer the conversation in a different direction. Say something like, “Oh, wow, that IS really interesting. Speaking of gerbils squeezing into tight places, my son’s pet hamster escaped from its cage. Does anyone have a good tip on how to lure it out from the heating vent?”
  2. Follow directions. If someone says, “Don’t tell anyone,” then really, don’t tell anyone. If someone says, “Don’t tell Sally Jones,” keep in mind that you could, technically, tell everyone in town except Sally Jones, but if you tell Sally’s sister or next door neighbor, the blood is still on your hands if Sally finds out.
  3. Beware of the information upchucker. I always forget this one. The one person who always tells you stuff, who you feel like is your confidante and trusts you enough to tell you everything about everyone, is actually someone who is just getting as much information from you as she can so she can go puke it out to everyone else she knows. This gal is useful at first, like when you move to a new town or join a new book club or your kids start at a new school, but keep in mind that nothing you tell her is sacred. She is why random people come up to you in the pharmacy and say, “Oh, hi, you must be refilling your chlamydia prescription today…hope that’s clearing up!”
  4. Become the defender. You can always stick up for people, especially people you like, if they’re not there to defend themselves. You don’t have to be all self-righteous and scary, you can just say things like, “Oh, I know Jane peed on her ex-husband’s front doorstep, and it’s definitely a little weird, but we need to keep in mind that she was raised by wolves and that’s traditionally how they mark their territory.”
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