How To Navigate Family Gossip During The Holidays

The holiday season is a time to gather with your family and spend quality time together as you catch up on each other's lives over another busy year. For most families, this also includes filling each other in on the lives of the family members who are not present. Another name for this is, of course, gossiping. While gossiping has taken on an overall negative connotation, it isn't necessarily mean or malicious. Miriam-Webster defines it as a report of an intimate nature. Basically, every time you discuss someone else's personal life, you are gossiping, and gossiping is perfectly normal.


If the thought of gossiping makes you cringe, you've probably been exposed to negative gossip. This is what happens when a person shares personal details about someone else's life for the purpose of judgment or comparison. If this is the way your family tends to gossip, the holidays can feel negative and stressful (via Oprah Daily). Here's how you can cope without joining in or causing a scene.  

Keep it positive or neutral

When it comes to gossip, there are three varieties: negative, positive, and neutral (via Today). Negative gossip involves passing on details of another person's life in a way that is judgmental or belittling and using their place in life to attempt to make yourself look or feel better. Sometimes, this need for comparison fuels embellishments and exaggerations that result in the creation and spreading of rumors. If the exchange of information includes eye-rolling, mockery, or pearl-clutching, the gossiping is negative.


Neutral gossip is simply the act of informing one person of what is happening in the life of another. The information is presented without judgment or opinion. Positive gossip involves relaying good news about another person's life in a celebratory manner. Rather than setting a goal of not gossiping at all, aim to only engage in gossiping that is positive or neutral. Gossiping is human nature, and there is no reason to fight against it. In fact, a 2019 metanalysis in Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that the average person spends 52 minutes a day gossiping. You can, however, create boundaries around the type of gossiping you will and won't engage in. 

Set and uphold healthy boundaries

If negative gossiping is a holiday tradition for your family and you're no longer interested in participating, it's time to set a healthy boundary. While this might require some discomfort, it doesn't have to cause a scene. Start out by simply giving your attention to only positive and neutral gossip. If a family member starts to hint at a desire to turn the gossip negative, simply don't take the hint. Continue speaking about the third person in a positive or neutral manner.


There may come a moment when a particularly pushy relative continues with nasty comments or judgments despite your subtle attempts to redirect. Some people crave the feeling of superiority that comes with tearing others down, according to Arata Academy. This is when you'll need to name your boundary. Be calm and direct with a simple statement such as "That sounds like none of my business," and then change the subject. Repeat this tactic as many times as it takes for the persistent family member — along with anyone else observing — to realize that you're serious and intend to follow through with your limits.