Is it Gossip or Conversation?

April 10, 2014 — 3 Comments

People talk. They talk behind your back. They talk about you. They talk about your leadership decisions. It’s normative. Expect it. And don’t call this talk gossip. Most of the time it’s not.

If you’re a leader, then you probably lean towards being a control freak. It’s expected. Laissez-faire leaders don’t typically last long. In many ways, leadership is simply interference with the status quo. When people talk, you want to shape the conversation. That’s healthy. That’s leadership.

What is not healthy is how often leaders can gripe about conversations as if it’s gossip every time someone says something about them while not in their presence. Get over it. Dialogue is not gossip. In fact, discussions are usually good signs. It means you’re doing something that causes people to talk. But how can you discern between gossip (which is clearly a sin) and conversation (which is not sinful)?

First, realize people need to talk to process. The church is a living organism. It’s more than an organization. Though leaders should have a communication strategy, not every conversation in the church is strategic. In order for people to process your vision and decisions, they need to talk about. Some could even say negative things. Just because some might disagree with you and vocalize their concerns does not make them gossips. Let people process by talking for a season before you start making accusations.

Second, gossip is defined more by intent than content. Most gossip requires a selfish motive. Most everyone needs information to think through an event. So people ask questions. They call their friends. They talk to other leaders. If their point is to gain this information for malicious motives, then it’s gossip. If they’re chatting in order to know how to help, then it’s not gossip. Before you leap to a conclusion about gossip, consider someone’s motives.

Third, it’s the leader’s responsibility to provide clarity. Something happens. Perhaps it hit the fan. A dust cloud forms. It looms. Think of this dust cloud as everyone’s dialogue. Confusion brings more confusion. People talk about their confusion. The cloud grows. It’s dark. No one can see what’s ahead. At this stage, most people are not gossiping. They are simply trying to find their way by talking to others. It’s your responsibility as a leader to provide clarity so the dust cloud settles. Grousing about chatter makes you the problem. Leaders who complain about conversations as if it’s gossip actually create a clouded environment in which gossip forms. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conversations are not gossip. Let people process by talking, even if it’s not with you. Before accusing the talkers of gossip, understand their intent. And it’s on you as a leader to provide clarity when the chatter stirs up dust.


Sam Rainer

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Sam S. Rainer is the president of Rainer Research and the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN.

3 responses to Is it Gossip or Conversation?

  1. Well said and well done! You bring up a great discussion that leadership teams need to have in growing with communication.

  2. Thank you Sam for the encouragement to leaders of the church. Shaping the conversation takes tact, skill, and discernment.

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