My “Rules” for Talking About Others

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

Last week I was talking to a family member who was at a family gathering and mentioned that another family member had just arrived…with their animal in tow. My immediate response was, “Why did they bring their pet? I would never take mine to that sort of event.”

The reason I said this was primarily because I used to have two dogs, both Chinese pugs. I loved them dearly, but they barked a lot and could sometimes be a handful. There was no way I was taking them someplace where they’d be around others all day because that meant that I’d spend a majority of my time trying to get them to behave.

Yet, my other family member wouldn’t necessarily know this. Which is exactly what I realized when the person I was speaking with said to me, “You might want to say that quietly. You’re on speakerphone.” Ouch!

I was more than a little embarrassed by my flippant comment. And though I meant no actual harm, I feared that my other family member heard me and assumed that I was speaking negatively about the decision they’d made. That feeling sucked and hit me hard enough to really think about the “rules” I need to set for myself if I’m going to say anything about someone else. Rules like…

Pretend They’re Standing Right There

Personally, I always tell someone I’m on the phone with if I have them on speakerphone and anyone else is in earshot. This doesn’t happen a lot because I’m more likely to use earbuds, but if it does, you’ll know at the beginning of the conversation.

That said, I can’t just assume that others are doing the same for me. Therefore, if I’m going to say anything about someone else’s actions, I need to talk as if they are right there. That keeps me from putting my foot in my mouth and feeling like shit for the rest of the day (or week or even lifetime).

This rule also applies to non-speakerphone situations. If I always imagine that the person I’m speaking about is standing right in front of me, it will cause me to choose my words more wisely.

Plus, I don’t want others to think that I badmouth people behind their backs. I’ve vented a time or two to some close, well-trusted friends but I try to make it a point to not do that because I don’t want it done to me.

If It Feels Wrong, It Probably Is

I think we all have those family members and friends who could make a career out of talking about other people. When I spend too much time with this type of person, it’s easy to get sucked into their trap. I’m getting better at recognizing when this happens and walking away, but the times that I haven’t have left me feeling incredibly bad about my behavior.

My point here is, if what you’re saying feels like it is wrong — as in hurtful or mean — it probably is. You’re always better off taking the high road and not giving in to the temptation of gossip. One benefit of this is that people tend to involve you less in their drama because they know you won’t participate. And, again, you’re less likely to say something you eventually regret.

Ask Yourself Whether It Is Your Story to Tell

When I was in law enforcement, I had access to some of the juiciest stories in the county. I knew who was getting arrested, who was having family troubles, and a bunch of other deep dark secrets. But family members quickly learned to quit asking about this kind of stuff because, whenever questioned, my response was always, “It’s not my story to tell.”

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in my life. I’ve had periods where I’ve drank too much, which has resulted in some incredibly stupid decisions that still keep me awake from time to time. I’ve also done things completely sober that I’d take back if I could, like when I pinned my former stepson against the wall after he called me a bitch. That was definitely not the best response and one I’d change if I had the opportunity to go back in time.

I know that I would feel hurt, betrayed, and disappointed if someone I knew was sharing these stories about me. Yes, they may be completely true, but they are mine to tell. And they are nowhere near a good representation of who I am the rest of the time.

That’s why I don’t spread stories that I’ve heard about others, even if they were the ones who told them to me. In the end, if it isn’t my story, I don’t feel I have the right to tell it. If they want someone to know what they did, that’s on them.

In fact, I always joke that if I ever fall on the sidewalk and crack open my head, I hope that someone is nice enough to get a broom and dustpan to collect all of the stories I’ve been told. That will keep them safe and sound where they belong…which is out of other people’s mouths.

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