Dealing with Family Gossip

Dear Ms. Demeanor:

Every time I go to a family party, I'm cornered by my gossipy great-aunt. No matter how benign I keep the subject, two weeks later I have people calling me about the stories she's concocted out of my life. She's my grandmother's only sister, and they're very close. I don't want to upset my grandmother, but how do I tell my great-aunt to stop gossiping about me?



Dear Nicole:

First of all, do your best to handle the stories that come back to you with humor. If you can laugh off the comments, you're a long way toward defusing the problem. Maybe you can just say something like, "Oh, sure, and there are palm trees in Antarctica!"

Next, enlist your grandmother's aid. Most grandmothers love being asked for advice, and it happens altogether too infrequently. Make some time to be alone with her, then relay what's been happening. Tell her how the stories are hurtful, if they are, and the negative consequences. Then just ask her, "How do you think I should handle Aunt Clara?" By enlisting grandmom's aid first, you can sabotage any efforts on her sister's part to misstate the story.

If you still prefer to go directly to the source, make sure to be alone with your aunt. Otherwise the criticism would embarrass her and possibly make her angry. Say something like, "Aunt Clara, I've been hearing stories of our talks together lately from other family members. I'm troubled that they can't seem to get the facts straight. For example.... (Give one here.) Do you know how that tale got started?" Chances are Aunt Clara will shape up. Just be careful not to attack. Use "I" language, because people become defensive when sentences begin with, "You did this or that."

Then, be very careful in the future to keep your conversations focused on the weather, movies, gardening or some other impersonal topic. Don't avoid her or be cold to her. It will create a feud, and that's not pretty and can be more painful than hearing tall tales.

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