So I learned about gossip bullying first hand recently while I was preparing for a talk on bullying about relational bullying, about girl bullying, mean girl stuff.
I was sitting in a coffee shop, I was working with a colleague and my colleague left and a woman was sitting next to me who must have heard what I was talking about and she said “I heard you talking about gossiping and relational bullying. My daughter who is young – a teenager – is having this major problem. So she said she’s getting in trouble because of gossiping, her friends are leaving her out.
So I went through, I spent like 30 minutes with her talking about bullying and why gossiping occurs and what it’s all about and then her friends came in and she said to me “thank you very much.” I said “It was great, I hope you got a lot out of it.” She did, she went over to her friends – and I felt pretty good about myself – but when she went over to her friends all of a sudden she started gossiping about a neighbor of hers and getting really mean and nasty and I thought to myself “Woah. I just spent 30 minutes sharing all this research and all this stuff about what bullying is about, she didn’t get an ounce of it because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” She was teaching her daughter – by her own behavior – how to gossip.
So that’s where it was coming from so I – as a bystander, as an expert I’m thinking what do I do? And I thought “I can’t let it go because if I let it go then I’m doing nothing and I don’t train that. I have to be an up stander and do something.” She asked me to help her, so I thought I could do this in 2 ways. I could go up to her and humiliate her in front of her friends, which would be awful or I can tap her quietly and have her come over and share it. And that’s what I decided to do, so I tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around and said “Yeah?” I said “Can I just talk to you for one more minute?” And at first she was a little bit uncomfortable but she came over to me and I said “I hope you enjoyed our talk and you learned a lot.” She said “I did.” Well there was one thing I just noticed if you don’t mind me sharing. She said “What’s that?” I said “I don’t know if you realize, but when we talked about the gossiping problem you daughter had, maybe she mad some of that influence from you because when your friends came in you started gossiping about a neighbor. And all of a sudden she got really red in the face and she said “Okay, thank you!” And she ran back to her friends and started gossiping about me but here’s the point.
What do we do in those situations?
Do we stand back and do nothing? Or in that situation it was totally appropriate to let her know because she had asked me for advice.
What she did with that I’ll never know, but the point is it’s so easy to be role modeling things and never even see what we do. And that’s where kids learn the most, from what we do and not from what we say.
Dr. Haber is available for speaking engagements and consultations to help your combat your school or workplace bullying issues.
Dr. Joel Haber