A co-worker recently crept into my office. Judging by the look on her face and the way she quickly and quietly closed my door, I knew she was about to gossip. She proceeded to tell me very unsavory details about someone I admired and respected. She was not sure if it was true, but she assured me that she received the information from a very reliable source. So how could it be wrong?

I must confess, I enjoyed the “juiciness” of the scoop she was giving me — right up to the point when she started sharing information that was very damaging to the image I had of this well-respected person. I suppose I should have changed the subject when it turned sour, but instead, I let her continue, my eyes growing as big as saucers as I took in each morsel.

While her talk had enticed me to listen to the whole story, regretfully, I am now faced with some very negative images of one of my mentors.

Most gossip would appear to be harmless, and doesn’t carry the same repercussions as the scenario above. Our culture tends to treat gossip lightly. Most people might think it is a bad habit, yet gossip is an accepted pastime, something people share in when they congregate around the lunch table or the water cooler.

We may innocently “dish,” “get the goods,” or hear the “dirt,” on someone, but God doesn’t take the whole matter so lightly.> He says that our tongues are set on fire by hell (James 3:6).

God is not pleased when we gossip in the workplace, and neither is your employer. According to Human Resources Specialist Cassie Dibiase, “Listening or contributing to gossip in the workplace is probably the single most destructive behavior for anyone hoping to succeed in the business world.”

Consider these key points:

So what are some ways to avoid getting caught in the snare of gossip?

Know if it is gossip

The dictionary defines gossip as rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature. To know if you’re gossiping, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how you would feel if the person you were discussing suddenly happened upon your conversation. Would you be embarrassed? Chances are, as a Christian, you know when you are gossiping. You get that unsettled feeling from the Holy Spirit that maybe what you’re discussing isn’t quite appropriate.

God’s view of gossip

Not only does the Holy Spirit convict us, but God commands us through Scripture not to gossip. Proverbs 4:24 reminds us to “keep corrupt talk from our lips.” God doesn’t want us listening to gossip either. Hearing the gossip is about as bad as spreading it, since you can’t erase the negative words you’ve heard about a person. Proverbs 26:22 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

The Philippians 4:8 principle

To help us remember what is and isn’t acceptable to discuss, use Philippians 4:8 as a guide: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” While Paul instructs us to think about these things, it seems to me that Philippians 4:8 is a good way to measure our conversations too.

Gossip just plain hurts

Simply put, gossip hurts people. When my dearest friend and co-worker went through a divorce a few years ago, many of our colleagues came to me looking for information. My friend was so devastated and shocked over the divorce that to discuss her hurt and raw emotions with anyone seemed unthinkable. Furthermore, I ran the risk of seeing mixed rumors circulate about my friend. Dibiase says, “Just think back to the playground… when someone spread untrue tales around the schoolyard. They were hurtful, unproductive, and damaged friendships. Playground rules still apply. The only difference is professional reputations are taken more seriously — the stakes are higher.”

Setting parameters in our conversations

When our speech begins to tread into gossip territory, we need to be reminded to steer our conversation to a more edifying topic. Surrounding ourselves with close friends who are Christians and like-minded in spirit always helps keep gossip in check.

Steering the conversation

While maintaining ties with fellow believers is a helpful way of keeping our tongues in check, we don’t always share office space with other Christians. How do we keep gossip under control when we are with people who aren’t necessarily focused on guarding their talk? While our first impulse might be to stay away from situations that would put us in the middle of gossip, let’s remind ourselves that Jesus himself broke bread with non-believers and those who gossiped, among other things.

When gossip starts, try to cut it off with a gentle remark to sway the conversation. Or, better still, turn to your gossiping co-worker and ask her about what’s happening in her life. It has been said that a gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about herself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself. It’s an almost guaranteed way to change the conversation.

Despite our best efforts to avoid gossip’s snare, we might still have to catch ourselves every now and then. As my friend Melissa puts it, “Gossiping is something we always have to keep in check with the Lord.”

Photo Credit: Ben White