Consider Your Motives
If the gossip is negative and doesn’t serve any actionable purpose, keep it to yourself. “People love new couples. People love babies. It’s not all negative,” Mr. Hilton said. “Of course, train wrecks — people being very messy or sloppy publicly — do get a lot of attention. I won’t deny that.”
While someone might devour any train wreck gossip you have to share, you may not emerge from the conversation unscathed. And the fact that you shared it at all may color others’ perceptions of you. “It might be that you just don’t like this person, and you’re trying to spread bad things,” Mr. Chang said. “I think people can read on that.”
He elaborated: If “someone told you a secret and you agreed, and you disclose it to other people, people are going to notice. I think the intention, and the outcome of what you’re trying to do, affects your reputation.”
Consider the Merit, and the Source
Gossiping is bad when it sows uncertainty or confusion. And any piece of gossip loses its merit as civilization-boosting or as a social lubricant when it’s a baldfaced lie, or even something heard through the grapevine that can’t be substantiated.
Mr. Jolly and Mr. Chang determined in their study that gossip’s beneficial societal function comes from its ability to make things clearer and to help people better understand their environment. If you are actively sabotaging that, don’t pass it on.
That said, when gossiping, remember to exercise some compassion not just for others but for yourself. Everyone gossips — and everyone makes mistakes in gossiping — and you will too. Mr. Chang remarked that some of his favorite conversations with people, as he sees more of them socially, are about “the things they would be ashamed of if people knew they had been doing during the pandemic.”
“We’re all humans, and we’ve all been adapting and surviving in similar ways,” he said. Don’t beat yourself up for falling prey to evolutionary instincts. The best you can do, on your best day, is be kind, keep it positive and stick to the facts.