May 30, 2018
Action Letters, Communication
One of the most insidious ways systemic discrimination replicates itself is through intentional and unintentional sh*ttalking. We use gossip and “gut feelings” to police and control others who challenge the status quo – or who threaten our ego. We’ve been socialized to feel that talking trash brings intimacy. We often to do it to people we consider our closest colleagues.
So what is sh*ttalking?
I often find that the phrase “I LOVE [insert name], but…..” is followed by one of three things:
- Seeking Support/Problem solving – The speaker needs time to externally process and has come to me for (implicit or explicit) support in talking through a situation about another person. This can be useful when done with (a) care/trust (b) confidentiality and (c) placing the speaker as an actor with agency in the situation who can take responsibility for their stuff.
- Venting – The speaker is using our trusting relationship to release some feelings and emotions about another person. We both have agreed (implicitly or explicitly) that many of those feelings are not really about the other person, but are about the speaker themselves. This can be a useful step in raising awareness, starting healing, and opening a space for clarifying future actions later on.
- Sh*ttalking – The speaker is making labels, judgements, pronouncements, or reads about someone they ‘know’. The statements are shared as facts about the other person. They implicitly or explicitly undermine/belittle some part of the other person’s character, motives, or actions. The statements are often couched as ‘caring critique’ with little regard for the agency of the person they are objectifying or confidentiality, and little self-reflection. These statements are often a reaction to some threat, discomfort, or confusion the speaker has experienced in response to the other person that they unaware of.
And, what are we gonna do about it?
I am sad when I realize all the times I’ve slipped into sh*ttalking and caused a harm that I had not – intentionally – hoped for. (And I am sure there are many on this list who can attest to the heights and volume of my expertise in this area….. deep sigh). Over the last few months, I’ve become committed to using a few practices to help me check my sh*ttalking, and be more curious about others that try to use me for their own, by:
- Being explicit about why I am speaking about/mentioning someone else and what outcomes I’m seeking – asking others to do the same in their convos with me;
- Pausing to disconnect my feelings of someone from the judgements I’m sharing from the ladder of inference;
- Taking responsibility for my reactions to people, and loving and acknowledging my own ability to act.
Sharing gratitude for everyone who has helped me on a path out of sh*ttalking, and in to more honest connection with my feelings and power.