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4 Ways to Prevent Unintentional Gossip

Take care when telling other people’s stories

Sometimes I'm taken aback by how much gossip has become an acceptable part of our culture. Whether it's learning the 411 on the celebrity of the hour or following the latest political gossip on Twitter, it's hard to turn on the television or walk through the checkout lane of the grocery store without catching a whiff of some juicy news that may or may not be true.

Even though gossip has become somewhat of a national pastime, Paul advises Timothy, a young leader in the church, to protect what has been entrusted to him by avoiding empty gossip: "Guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness" (1 Timothy 6:20-21).

In 2 Timothy 2:16, Paul further advises Timothy: "Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior." Gossip also reveals our level of trustworthiness. Can we protect what others have given us in trust?

Proverbs 11:13 distinguishes between a friend, who can keep secrets, and a gossip, who repeats everything they hear. Proverbs 16:28 and 26:20 add to this definition by showing the results of gossip: Loose lips hurt feelings, separate friends, and fuel arguments. Gossip also points to deeper heart issues such as pride, jealousy, low self-esteem, or a drive to please others.

Gossip can spread when you're with a group of friends chatting about the week's events and unintentionally cross the line into TMI (Too Much Information). But gossip can spread even faster if you cross that same line when you're teaching an adult Sunday school class, leading a small group, or preaching at the pulpit during weekend services. Well-intended pastors sometimes share people's stories to make a preaching point. What was meant to serve as an illustration can spark gossip and catch like a brush fire throughout the congregation. The positive impact of the message can be undermined by the negative influence of a few wrong words. So how can you avoid unintentional gossip?

1. The easiest way to prevent accidental gossip is to ask for permission before telling others' stories. When talking with your friend, explain why you want to use her story. If she says no, recognize the story is hers to tell, not yours, and respect her boundaries. If she agrees, discuss how much of her story you are allowed to share in order to set clear limits.

2. Don't choose hypothetical situations pointed toward one person. Pieces will be put together and the person will be recognized. If your community is small enough, the entire audience will figure out the real identity of the hypothetical person.

3. Be aware of timing your illustrations too close to the actual event. Using your platform as a tool to voice your opinion about current situations is easy to do. Your illustration can easily pit members against each other, creating two opposing sides. A good rule of thumb is to wait before using the situation; emotions are steadier and time will lend a fresh perspective to the event.

4. If you knew the other person was present, would you still tell the story in the same way? Your answer will be a good clue to see if your words are unintentional gossip.

Add to our list! How else can you prevent unintentional gossip?

Margaret Feinberg is the author of several books, including her most recent, Hungry for God.

November21, 2011 at 3:46 PM

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