I am not a hermit, however much there are times I long for that depth of silence. I live in a small village community and more than ever I recognise that my every action will either unite or divide that community. More than that I am a member of many systems. Some of them are healthy and a place where interdependence thrives; others are a challenge to be part of. One of the most corrosive elements present in any system is gossip; it can kill the sense of community.
Here’s the rub, the other day I noticed that my impeccability bottle was leaking and I grew curious as to why that was so I reflected on that. Here’s what I discovered. The pull of belonging as discussed in a previous post is so strong that at times we compromise our own values. How often have you found yourself colluding in or endorsing behaviours that stick in your gullet in order to fit in? What other factors are present when gossip is rife? Have you ever considered why Gossip happens? How much have you participated in gossip at work or in the school playground?
What do I mean by gossip? I was discussing these ideas with fellow spiritual coach Nancy Swisher and I just loved her definition which was talking about anyone who is not present in the conversation. It is neat and simple and so clear. All I would add is talking in a detrimental way about people who are not part of the conversation. This is gossip because they have no opportunity to give a different perspective. It is vital because there is no absolute truth as the saying goes we see the world as we are not as it is. What this means is that we are always making up stories based on the data we have sifted out from the reams we receive through our filters. These filters have developed from the experiences of life that we have had.
This is not a post condoning gossip: that said it’s too easy to take the moral high ground and start condemning others for not living up to our expectations. Yes impeccability with our word is vital because as soon as you say something hurtful about another you have no idea where it may go or what it will lead to. There’s an analogy that’s been used in films and plays that describes the impact of gossip brilliantly. If you stand on top of a tall building and rip open a feather pillow and allow the content to be scattered in the wind; it would be virtually impossible to find all the feathers later on as they will have dispersed far and wide.
Similarly whenever you say something unpleasant about another, you cannot see the impact of your words and it is unlikely you ever will see it. We know that actually spreading malicious stories can be more hurtful and can cause more damage to someone’s self-esteem than any stick or stone that is thrown. It is also poisonous and contaminates the environment in such a way that people withdraw to protect themselves as they don’t want to be hurt. This is so harmful too because one of our basic needs as human beings is connection.
Why does gossip happen? I think about the 600 nurses and midwives whom I have worked with over the last year. None of them wanted to work in a negative environment where they felt controlled and unable to speak their mind and yet many contribute to the negativity through participating in gossip or triangulation. Triangulation is when you divide and conquer by having multiple side conversations with people to put across a particular view and manipulate the outcome. These women and men were wonderful people so why is this happening? So often it is because they feel a sense of injustice about a decision that’s been made that impacts adversely on them and they feel unable to influence change.
There then appears to be a sense of vindication through sharing their position with another and getting support for that. It is not surprising that someone might feel justified in venting some of that frustration through gossiping with others. This sort of behaviour appears when people feel powerless. It doesn’t make it right; what would be better would be to take responsibility and go to the person who is causing concern and use open and transparent communication. Easy to say and challenging to do especially if you feel you won’t be heard.
So how do you confront someone who is making your life difficult? Rather than bitching about them behind their back, you arrange to speak to them. I would recommend that you use a tool like COIN. The ‘c’ stands for context; the o for observation; the i for impact and the n for next. COIN helps you to remain neutral as you state what you observed in what context and then using ‘I” statements you say what the impact was on you and lastly what you would like to see next. I would also place an emphasis on feed forward in other words the behavior that you would like to see in the future rather than focusing on what has already happened.
Be ready to be rebuffed. Sometimes the other person is not ready to have that conversation with you. Earlier this year I lost connection with someone that I cherished. It was very painful as all my attempts to rebuild the relationship were refuted. They would not talk to me and yet through things they shared with me in writing they did feel it was okay to talk to others about what had happened. Over time I realised that the relationship had always been more important to me than it had been to them and I learnt to let go of any attachment. Now when I think of them I send them love and kindness and wish them well.
For me the way to wholeness comes through mastering emotional self-control by increasing self-awareness. More and more I making an active choice about who I spend time with and often prefer to be alone. Having space is about giving myself time to reflect on what is happening so that I can grow from every experience and find a better way to be next time I am triggered.
One of the most joyous experiences in my life at the moment is spending time with Kath my business partner for Transformational Leaders Ltd. Not just because we have loads of fun creating tools for client but also because we practise impeccability with our word all the time. We consciously design how we want to be with each other and regularly check in to see that the relationship is working for both of us. This takes effort which is why I feel so much connection with the hermit these days.
If you want help with how to manage a challenging conversation or more support to deal with conflict then I do have a couple of openings at the moment to work with one to one clients. Get in touch for a 30 minute consultation to get clear on whether we are a match. Let’s talk.