Yes, We’re Talking About You

That’s okay, because we know you’re talking about us as well. We young professionals (YPs) have a lot to say about many things, including each other. We often know a lot about people we have never met in person, both socially and professionally, and there’s a fine line between conversation and gossip. Here are three interrelated reasons why people are talking about you now more than ever, and when you should (or shouldn’t) care.

Competitive Advantage
As any pavement-pounding YP can attest, our cities are competitive. We want to know what our competitors, rivals and idols are doing, how we rank compared to our friends, who’s creating what, who’s winning awards, who’s going back to school, and the list goes on. We engage in banter about others as a tactic to remain sharp in the game and turn to “the grapevine” to further ourselves in our own competitive edge. “I don’t adhere to typical ‘gossip’, meaning the personal lives of others are of little concern, but I definitely find myself discussing the professional successes and failures of people in my industry,” said a 28-year-old Toronto female YP in public relations. In this case, gossip is not necessarily mindless, toxic banter, or a destructive, negative thing, and could indeed involve a discussion of the successes of someone you admire. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Social Media  
It can be difficult not to gossip when the happenings of other people’s lives (some we haven’t seen in over a decade) are thrown in your face on a daily basis via social media channels, especially when catching up with old friends. People who would have vanished from your memory had social media not happened are now a part of your daily news feed and you could probably pick out their children, who you’ve never met, in a crowd of a hundred. Social media is designed so that people remain relevant in our minds. Furthermore, it maintains the size of your social circle to the point that the amount of “friends” we have and people we know increases as we get older, when this wasn’t necessarily the case in generations prior. We therefore have more people to potentially talk about. 

Social media makes it temptingly simple to research and fact check others, and to become even mildly interested in lives that don’t directly affect us and wouldn’t in its absence. After all, we research everything from the newest restaurants to our cars, and have become accustomed to the perpetual abundance of information offered right at our fingertips. If a person is brought up in conversation (meaning potential mates, frenemies, clients and business partners alike), we can immediately learn more in minutes by bringing up their social media and LinkedIn profiles. Most YPs will admit they know way too much about some people they could have maybe met in person once or twice—where they vacationed, what they do, who their friends are, and even where they shop and what they had for dinner – and that gives us something to talk about. 

Insecurity
Both increased competition and social media may contribute to feelings of insecurity or inferiority. Insecurity breeds jealousy, and, in turn, jealousy breeds gossip in the traditional sense of the word. In its basic definition, gossip is the idle banter about the personal lives of others; it is an indulgent exchange of trivial information. Though it seems most of us have shed those layers of insecurity by 30, it characterizes many people’s 20s. When someone feels jealous or threatened by someone else, he or she may gossip about the other person in order to feel better about him or herself or to turn others against the other person. Perhaps difficult to admit, jealousy itself stems from lack of self-confidence. And as we know, seemingly on-top-of-the-world YPs are not nearly as perpetually confident as we’d like you to believe we are. The unfortunate reality is, the more successful and happy you become, the more potential that certain toxic individuals want to bring you down.

What This Means for You
In life, it is impossible to avoid discussions of the lives and actions of others. But at what point does conversation move to unproductive gossip, the type we should have left behind in high school, or at least at the end of university? It is not gossip if one expresses concern over the safety of another due to substance abuse, physical abuse, emotional instability or mistreatment at the hands of another person. Likewise, it is not gossip if one chooses to warn a friend or family member about a potential business partner or mate whom they know to have a history of deceit or being untrustworthy. It is gossip if the information serves no productive or constructive purpose. No matter the case, it isn’t becoming professionally or socially, and being known as a gossip king/queen can indeed ruin your precious reputation.

If you indulge in sensationalized stories of the personal lives of others, thrive on discussions of professional failure, or talk about friends negatively in their absence, this is a sign that you have a certain personal flaw. Or that you’re feeble-minded. Many people gossip because they don’t in fact have anything better to discuss. This type of gossiping may arise in awkward situations when the conversation is lacking or when the participants in the conversation can’t connect on anything. Don’t do it; you have better things to talk about. 

Finally, if you find yourself the subject of gossip or group discussion, you’re probably doing something notable to generate such dialogue in the first place. So, let the naysayers remain as insignificant as their feeble banter.