If you’re in that situation when someone talking to you starts to “vent” about someone else… it usually starts small about how hard things are at the moment… but in order to explain how they’re feeling, they feel the need to share how this person has wronged them and that person was mean to them… and before long you’re hearing things that you ought not to hear… what should one do?
It’s a difficult moment, because you’re hoping that at any moment they’re going to recognise what they’re doing, you’re hoping they’re going to realise they didn’t mean to go into all that, and stop all by themselves. But… I think that’s very rare.
You should politely ask them to stop. Maybe…
“Can I stop you there for a second? I wonder if you’ve started talking about people in a way you wouldn’t like people talking about you?”
“Can we just press pause on this conversation for a minute? It sounds like you’ve got a lot of feelings rolling around at the moment and you might not have thought hard about what you should and shouldn’t say?”
But stopping it is only part of the response. Ideally, you want to help this person work out WHY they came to you in the first place… Did they really just want vengeance (and thought you knowing might help)? Are they simply trying to process what happened to them and their feelings and facts are getting all muddled up? Do they want you to go and fix their problem? Have they already had the same conversation with 5 other people (who didn’t tell them to stop) and now their just in the habit of talking that way?
Once again… it’s very rare that the presenting issue is the real issue. So try and treat the cause, not the symptoms.
Venting is that thing people (like me) do when something bad or annoying has happened. It usually involves someone else and how they made your life much harder and now all these things are going wrong (read “not like I wanted them to go”). And it normally coincides with some other significant life event and feels too much.
So you go and “get it off your chest”, or “vent”. You might even call it “processing”.
But what you’re really doing is either grumbling against God, slander or gossiping. Possibly all three.
Do you really need to get it off your chest? Really?
Well, have your tried telling God how you feel? Actually how you feel? No? Might it be because what you want to say isn’t very godly?
If you wouldn’t say it to God, don’t say it to anyone.
Many decisions in Christian leadership are tricky. This is especially so when the information you have to make those decisions includes sin and maturity issues.
Why? Because for people to understand the leadership’s decision, they would have to be given access to information they don’t need to know, information that is inappropriate they know. You’d have to gossip to them. Then they’d understand. They wouldn’t be angry about your decision then.
But if you’re not going to gossip (and you shouldn’t!!) then the only other option is to be content that people a) won’t understand, and b) might not be happy with your decision.
All you can do is ask them to trust you (and the team of people you have entrusted that info to) that you’ve made the best decision with the information you have – not the information they have.
Marriages shouldn’t have secrets. You should never promise that you won’t tell your wife/husband. People who reveal private and personal details to you should know that those details could go to your spouse.
But “could” is the operative word there. I’d be wary of the couple who say they “must” tell each other everything. Couples should only share other people’s private issues if they think it will be really helpful for the person involved to have their spose’s perspective. But, here’s some reasons to not share other people’s private issues with your spouse:
- if you think your spouse won’t find it helpful (e.g. it will seriously damage their opinion of someone else in a way they won’t be able to contain)
- if you think your spouse won’t be able to keep it private themselves
- if you think your spouse just doesn’t need to know and them knowing really isn’t going to help you… why share it at all?
- if you’re concerned you’re tending to gossip (you could say, “I’d like to share it, but I need to consider my motives for a while first.”)
- if you’re concerned your spouse only wants to know because they like gossip (you could say, “I’m happy to tell you, but maybe in a few days, and if you still think you need to know, ask again.”)
- if your spose is under other obligations to deal with information (e.g. they might be required by law or by their work place to report any incidents of a certain nature) you should think hard if your spouse will need to act upon hearing the information – and if you’re happy for that to happen.
It’s not just as simple as “tell your spouse everything”. You could… but not only should you have a good reason, you should also make sure there’s not a good reason to refrain.
Accusations – in any forum – are always serious.
Whether your in a formal minuted meeting, a public forum, an online discussion or a private conversation; accusations are serious forms of gossip.
Accusations commonly move from talking about events to talking about motives or un-heard conversations. They are claims about what other people said or thought.
They shouldn’t be condoned. Feel free to stop people when they make fleeting accusations and ask them to substantiate them; Who said that? How do you know? Was that their intention? Did they tell you? What did you actually see?
Don’t just let accusations pass by. They damage people and relationships. And by the way… be very wary making them yourself.
Gossip isn’t simply when “other people” talk about you. That’s fine. Rather, gossip is when other people talk about you in damaging ways… when they talk to other people about your intentions, your motives. Or putting it the other way around, gossip is when you talk to someone about how another person is mean/awful/untrustworthy.
You could say those things to their face, and that would be bad enough since you’re attributing motives… you’re assuming to know their heart (which only God can).
What makes gossip worse is that the person you’re talking about isn’t even there. They can’t defend themselves; they have no voice, they are helpless and weak in the face of such an attack.
So defend the weak and those without a voice.
Stop other people gossiping. Ask people to stop when they start saying unkind things about someone not present.
many foolish tongues flap about people, sometimes there is talk of past events, but rare are the ones who discuss ideas