These two words tend to get referred to as though they are synonymous. From a psychology point of view, they are in fact very different.
Why have I decided to write this post? I realised that many times, we get the meaning of these two terms mixed up and for communities, schools, workplace settings, this mix-up can be damaging. Discovering why we engage in these behaviours is also about understanding the reasons behind, and working on them, as part of our self-growth.
While gossiping is talking about someone when they’re out of earshot, it may hold some truths, malicious rumors are usually false and is a form of bullying.
I think, if we were working in some sort of supervisory role, knowing what these two really are about and being able to identify and distinguish between them is a very important skill to have.
Let’s first define each of them and delve in a bit to understand why we engage in these two behaviours.
Why do we gossip?
When we gossip, we talk about people when they are not present and apparently this is completely fine. In some ways, it’s considered friendly banter, getting to know each other, the community we’re involved in and society as a whole.
It’s not always negative, the word itself is actually neutral.
For instance, we might be gossiping about how lucky a certain friend is for winning the lottery. And there’s no hard feelings or bad intent associated with the statement.
So what are some of the main reasons that we gossip?
1 – Gossiping is also about history. We talk about the past, our elders and in a way, that’s what keep their stories alive. When we talk about our seniors and ancestors, we are literally keeping their memories alive. And along with it, the family and social circle cultures they and the generations before have so carefully molded during their lifetimes.
2 – Gossiping is a form of bonding, making friends and prevents us from feeling lonely. I mean, you can’t talk about the weather the whole day. Sooner or later, you’ll be talking about another friend, some actor or actress, your relatives and what not. And as soon as a name is mentioned, it’s considered gossiping.
3 – Gossiping is apparently a survival skill that has been with humanity since forever. In some ways, it’s a social skill, as long as it speaks the truth. For example, if you heard from a friend about a certain individual who’s done bad things to their company, you might not want to hire the said individual to prevent problems for yourself. Aka. survival skills.
This is, however, provided the gossip is neutral and holds some truth. When lies are created and gossiped about, these are called malicious rumors.
Why do we create malicious rumors?
While gossiping is the act of talking about other people, they are rarely malicious. It’s a way to keep the conversation going.
Now if people start making up lies to talk about another person. Such as if Ann were to say to Bert, that Connie said this and that about you, when in fact no such conversation ever happened between Ann and Connie. Ann has just created a malicious rumor about Connie, who is happily oblivious, until Bert confronts Connie, who had no idea what just happened.
And so begins the game of he says, she says. And all because Ann started a rumor. Now why would Ann start a malicious rumor? Understanding the reasons behind, is always good for any supervisory role. Let’s take a look at how the mind works.
1 – People spread rumor to alleviate anxiety. When we’re anxious about something, such as a mistake we did at work and dreading the criticism from our supervisor, we may start spreading rumor about our supervisor. If you’ve read my article on the defense mechanism, this will make more sense.
2 – People spread rumor for personal gains. By defaming the target, the person spreading rumors may wish to remove the target from the circle of friends or community. He/she may wish to replace the person if that person is of a high ranking position. To spread a rumor is to ridicule and lower the credibility of the target. Rumors are almost always malicious and done consciously; which is not the case with gossiping.
3 – People spread rumor when they are scared. In our attempt to make sense of anything uncertain that may impact our well-being, we start to create stories about it, to rationalise it, in ways our minds are able to accept. These stories are however, not always true, and when they begin to spread, they become rumors that may be very damaging.
Does this mean the person who spread malicious rumors is inherently bad. Not really, when you come down to it, psychology isn’t about good or bad. It’s about how well-balanced you are as a growing human being, and that continuous growth to want to become better.
That being said, how we carry ourselves through life is all up to us. We all have the choice to change, develop and improve, striving for self-actualisation.