Many people are curious about the “why do people talk behind your back psychology”; after all, everyone has been gossiped about at some point in his or her life. Being talked about behind your back is never pleasant and if you’re curious about why so many people seem to participate in this disrespectful activity, there are actually many reasons involved.
People come from different backgrounds and have different quirks, all of which can affect their inclination towards talking about people behind their backs. Below are a few observations that can be made about these people and the action of gossiping in general.
“Together or Separate” Mentality
Many people have a natural “us versus them” mentality and talking behind other people’s backs is a way to express this. This is especially true for your colleagues and co-workers and part of the reason why it comes through is because the workplace has a natural competitive feel to it. Many people therefore feel that they need to “take sides” with everyone and separate people into categories.
Just why do people do this? There are several reasons, including:
- They assume that your success doesn’t come from your true abilities.
- They put people down to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings.
- They do not know how to keep secrets and therefore share them with others.
- They simply love to gossip and look at it as a hobby.
- They are just plain jealous.
There are also people who simply cannot confront others to their faces so they do so behind their backs. However, whatever the reason is for gossiping, most people who do it are showing a sign of weakness.
Is it Natural to Gossip?
Many people are surprised to hear that gossiping about people behind their backs is a little more natural than you might think. Studies have shown that children as young as five years old have already mastered the art of gossiping about others so it is something begun fairly early in life. It is also estimated that roughly two-thirds of a typical conversation is regarding people who aren’t anywhere around, although this can include both bad and good gossip.
Yes, there can be good gossip; however, even though only about 5% of gossip is considered malicious, it is this type that is most well known. In addition, men can gossip just as much as women do, although many people assume that this is untrue. There is also a psychological basis for people gossiping, which is certain to be a surprise to many.
It Started as a Way to Share Information
The human brain is built for gossip, in part because people have relied on the sharing of information to survive over the centuries. These individuals’ genes have been passed down from generation to generation so, in essence, everybody has genes that have predisposed them to the art of talking about others behind their backs.
Nowadays, social groups are much bigger and much more diverse than they were in days past. This means that it is easier than ever before to spread rumors about someone. At the push of a button, people can gossip about people they’ve never even met, making gossiping more dangerous than it’s ever been.
And what about the psychology that is behind the popularity of gossiping? First of all, science has now proven that gossiping about the positive aspects of a person can have beneficial results, including:
- It helps you process difficult situations.
- You can more easily contextualize information.
- It helps you figure out the best course of action to take.
- The sharing of information can create special bonds between people.
- It can even help build communities that are stronger.
However, when most people hear the word “gossip”, they think of negative statements made about a particular person who isn’t around at the moment. This is why the more negative aspects of talking about people behind their backs will be explored further.
Why Do People Gossip?
There are also some very basic reasons why people continue to gossip even in today’s enlightened society. These include:
They Are Envious of Your Lifestyle
When people feel envious of your lifestyle and try their best to imitate it but can’t, they tend to gossip. This is, of course, based on their jealousy but the ensuing gossip is a natural result of those feelings. If people are gossiping about you, it may be simply because they are unable to copy your lifestyle.
They Cannot Reach Your Level
This can include your level of success, your level of maturity, or your level of anything else, for that matter. Especially if they’ve tried to reach your level but were unable to, this can cause them to gossip about you.
When You Have Something That They Want
This is a very common reason for gossiping about another person. If you have something they want — be it something tangible or intangible — they can start to gossip about you to everyone who will listen.
These are some basic reasons but now let’s explore the innate, psychological reasons for people’s gossiping habits.
Are Gossipers Missing Something Important in Their Psyches?
Psychologists have studied gossip and those who do this gossiping. There are a few findings that are worth noting. These include the following.
They Do it for Acceptance
When people gossip, they often do so as an attempt to fit in. They may feel as if they don’t belong anywhere and they feel that if they gossip to someone about somebody else, it is a way for them to be accepted. It is similar to divorced parents who buy their kids presents so they can like them better than the other parent.
An Indirect Way to Get Revenge on Someone
Think of this as similar to the “kicking the dog” syndrome. If someone gets frustrated with something at work and doesn’t get it out of his or her system, he or she can come home and take it out on others, including the dog. People who have been wronged want revenge and gossiping presents them with an outlet to vent their frustration. It also gives them the feeling that they’ve gotten their revenge in one way or another.
They Compare Themselves to Others
Gossiping can also be part of an effort for someone to feel more important or worthy than he or she truly is. Everyone is important, of course, but when people feel especially unworthy, they can demonstrate their feelings of inadequacy by gossiping about others.
Essentially all types of people who gossip have one main weak area and that is their feeling of insecurity and inadequacy, regardless of the form it takes. But does this mean that you can completely eliminate the practice of gossiping? Sadly, no. You can, however, learn to gossip in a negative way less frequently, which starts by becoming aware of why and how often you are gossiping.
Just What Is Gossip?
The word “gossip” always has a negative connotation but this is not completely accurate. In studying various types of “why do people talk behind your back” psychology, hard-and-fast rules have developed regarding the true definition of gossiping. This definition says that:
- It has a natural entertainment value.
- It is always about a person who isn’t currently present.
- It is usually regarding things not commonly known.
All you have to do is consider the average person’s obsession with celebrities to realize how prevalent gossiping is. Although not all gossip is negative, this is the type usually associated with the term and it is certainly the most difficult type of gossip to eliminate.
Gossip fits other criteria as well as it has numerous definitions. Gossip also requires the inclusion of certain qualities in order to be considered true gossip, such as:
- It is unverified and it may never be verified because it can be a false statement.
- It is made up of bits of specific and detailed information.
- It is already in circulation, which includes things such as conspiracy theories.
- It is important and relevant, such as telling people that your company is laying off employees.
If you make a statement that ABC happened and the news of that event is all over social media, then it isn’t gossip. Gossip is also very similar to rumors and even urban legends with only slight differences between these three things.
What Gossip Isn’t
Contrary to what many people believe, gossiping is not dependent on a person’s boredom. Regardless of how bored a person is, he or she will not resort to gossiping if he or she is confident, strong, and content with life. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Gossip also doesn’t bring any happiness to an individual. If you see a group of people and one of them is speaking behind another person’s back and everyone is laughing, the person gossiping is not necessarily happy. Simply put, happy and self-fulfilled people do not go around gossiping about others.
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, gossip is not necessarily negative as you can gossip about someone in a positive way. In fact, there are even benefits to the art of gossiping and they include:
- It’s a form of camaraderie among people.
- Having information about someone makes you feel powerful.
- Having information about someone can be humanizing.
- It can be a way to network with one another.
- It is a way to form alliances with certain individuals.
- It gives you a sense of influencing the world around you.
Bad Gossip and Why it’s Bad
Bad gossip has the power to destroy good relationships and cause negative preconceptions to occur about an individual in another person’s mind. Worse, those preconceptions may be based on something that is completely false. This means that a person’s life might be ruined or made more difficult for no good reason.
According to psychologists, gossip is bad for many reasons and the following are just a few of those reasons.
It Can Program a Person’s Mind in a Negative Way
Certain hate groups have propaganda rules that state the following: if you repeat something often enough, people assume that it is a fact. This, unfortunately, is true. If someone keeps telling you that Mary is a mean person, you’re going to assume that to be true. This, in turn, affects how you view her when you meet her for the first time.
If Mary happens to be a very nice person, you might not even notice it when the two of you meet. Already, your mind has been programmed in a negative way when it comes to Mary. As a result, you may even find negative points about Mary and ignore her good points, which can skew your overall perception of her from then on.
It’s All About Us
Ultimately, when studying the psychological reasons why people gossip, it all boils down to one thing — people pay attention to gossip because it’s all about them. They feel that gossip is important in order to improve and promote themselves. If you receive evaluative information on another person, it helps you evaluate yourself.
Everyone feels the need to compare themselves to other people. It’s a natural thing to do. Even if you aren’t an especially competitive human being, it is natural to feel a bit competitive when you’re hearing about the accomplishments of others. Gossiping about that person helps you feel a little better about yourself, which is why even self-confident individuals gossip occasionally.
Negative gossip can make people fearful that the same negative gossip will eventually be shared about themselves. This, in turn, makes them fearful. If this happens to you, it is good to remember that gossip is not about you; instead, it reflects only on the gossiper and not in a positive way.
Why Is Negative Gossip More Memorable?
People remember what you do, not what you say. Even though most gossip is not negative, the gossip that is negative sticks around longer. In studying “why do people talk behind your back” psychology, studies have shown that there are reasons why negative gossip exists, including:
- The negative aspect gives people a feeling of being a “partner in crime” because it is considered a deep, dark secret shared between a group of people.
- It allows for a feeling of self-disclosure, which is proven to make people feel closer to one another.
- It is considered valuable information that is only shared by a small group of people that you are now a part of.
Furthermore, sharing positive gossip doesn’t have these effects. No one feels “privileged” to hear positive gossip and it is rarely considered a secret. Because of this and other aspects, receiving positive gossip is never going to have the same effect on the listener than negative gossip does. Negative gossip, even if you weren’t interested when the person first started gossiping, makes you feel as if you are part of an important group.
Why Gossip and Rumors Are So Believable and Effective
If you’re not sure if the gossip you’re listening to is factual, why is it so believable? Even more importantly, why are people continuing to spread it around to others? There are many reasons, including:
- People accept gossip because of its ability to meet a certain psychological need; e.g., they can help people rationalize concerns and worries.
- People usually don’t do research to determine the truthfulness of the gossip they hear, which increases the likelihood that they’ll repeat it to others.
- People accept gossip and rumors as a way to view the world; they can even help people interpret the said world.
Quite frankly, gossip and rumors tend to be a bit more exciting and fun to hear than positive comments about a person. This is probably why it is so difficult for average people to stay away from it and to not participate in gossiping themselves.
How Can You Stop the Practice of Gossiping?
The water cooler is a popular place in most companies and there is a one-word reason why this is so: gossip. Of course, gossip of the negative kind is never a good thing. If you’re interested in stopping the train wreck before it crashes, below are a few good suggestions.
- Bring missing information to the group’s attention. Chances are good that not all of the details are being discussed and this is the perfect time to point out any missing details about what is being said.
- Change the subject. This is a simple but very effective technique and it turns the group’s attention to other, more positive things.
- Stand up to the person doing the gossiping. You don’t have to be rude but just let that person know that you do not like gossiping and how cruel it is. This is a subtle technique that works.
- Say something positive regarding the person being gossiped about. This is likely to stop the gossiper in his or her tracks and turn everyone’s attention to less negative things.
Part of the “why do people talk behind your back” psychology includes research on stopping the gossiping process and this is easier than you might think. You can even develop a specific reaction to general gossip and respond that way every time you’re around it. Of course, if all else fails, you can simply walk away from a group of gossipers as this might be the most effective technique of all.