In defense of Gossiping

In my last post I wrote about the Consequences of Gossiping and like most things in life there are many shades of grey.  Below there is an amusing story about gossiping that suggests that while you are well advised to remove yourself from gossip it is not wise to be completely oblivious to it.

Here’s the story (by way of Kim Davis – Thanks Kim):

“In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC) Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?” The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued. “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

It also explains why he never found out that Plato was banging his wife.”

Interesting that the bearer of the “information” thought that it failed the usefulness test.   Hmmmmm.

The story brings up two main points for me.  The first is that because a story is unsubstantiated doesn’t mean it is false – which ironically helps fan the flames of gossip.   The second is that we live among those that either willingly or unconsciously choose to hurt us with their words and deeds.  You deny or ignore this fact at your peril because closing your eyes to the bullet headed your way won’t make you any less dead. Like the owl listening for his next meal, it is wise to keep an ear open for the conversations others have about you.

Monitoring, even managing the conversations have about you is important for your identity as a leader and a provider of goods and services because your ability to lead, or to have your marketplace offers accepted depends greatly on how people listen to you; and how people listen to you depends on the stories they listen and repeat about you.  This means you must develop a selective listening for gossip.

One way to develop this selective listening is to train your networks – the people that you trust – to alert you to the gossip about you and the issues you care about.  I’ll write about how to respond to gossip about you in a future post.

Happy Holidays.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.