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Why challenging the way you speak about others will improve your self-esteem.

Jan 25, 2021

Talk of the town

There are obviously so many things I miss doing because this wretched COVID-19 situation has put a stop to them, and that includes the simple pleasures, such as watching the older members of my community all bump into one another at the village shop and then proceed to have a good ole natter. Sometimes they then take themselves off to the café across the road, to continue their chat over a cuppa and I have been in the café before now and whilst nursing a lovely mug of hot chocolate, and watching the world go by through the café’s wonderful almost panoramic windows, I amuse myself listening to the fellow café goers’ banter.

It’s usually all harmless stuff, discussing the general comings and goings of the village, who’s died, who’s moved out, how everything is changing – usually not for the better in their opinion, and everything in between. They are wise sages who have witnessed and experienced a lot in their years, and I love passing the time of day with them.

It’s when you get the huddles of people together talking in hushed tones, that you know there’s gossip afoot. That’s when I am no longer interested because what isn’t known is made up – they kind of put two and two together makes five kinda facts; it gets a bit too mean-spirited for my liking.

Rumour has it…

I remember advising a friend of mine that the village gossip seemed to be focusing on the state of her marriage. I’d overheard a few Mums in the school playground and gave them one of my steely glares. My friend’s response to this news: ‘Oh well, if they’re talking about me, at least it takes the heat off someone else.’ A noble sentiment and of course, entirely true.

It reminds me of the quote from an unknown source: "If you’re talking behind someone’s back, that just means their life is obviously more interesting than yours…!"

A compulsion to talk about other people is all part of typical human behaviour and it serves more than one purpose according to anthropologists. Whilst some might be about manipulating the behaviours of others – apparently, very often gossipy comments are deliberately said within earshot of the person they are talking about, gossip is not necessarily negative all the time and might be about information sharing, oiling the wheels of social interaction and building connections.

The mean girls’ gossip as far as I’m concerned is just a waste of time and energy. As if they are so perfect anyway. As my Granny used to say – people in glass houses…

Load of old baloney!

And I think my favourite word people use after a precursor to something unkind is ‘but..’ A participant on a Winning Edge LIVE programme put it like this: ‘Everything before the ‘but’ is bullsh*t.’ Now think about it… How many times do you say things like: ‘She’s a lovely woman but…’ or ‘I always have huge respect for him but…’ everything before the word ‘but’ is negated by the next few words which are undoubtedly going to be an insult.

As an aside, ‘but’ is also used just before an excuse and I have introduced this concept in my house too much amusement because it ensures you choose your words very carefully and consciously think about the intention behind what you are about to say. My children love to call each other out now, or indeed my husband and I, although they are told not to use the BS word! Baloney – yes.

Here is an example of the excuses we might use with ‘but’ as the precursor:

‘I was going to do my homework but….’ loosely translates as: ‘I had no intention of doing my homework because chatting to my friends on social media is far more interesting.’

‘I was planning to do that this morning but….’ actually means: ‘I totally forgot/ I wanted to do something far more than I wanted to do that.’

So, next time you find yourself in a discussion and someone is about to make a statement about someone else, if it features the word ‘but’ in the middle, you know to ignore everything they said before it because they don’t mean it at all…


The wonderful Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." How true this is. We can keep our world very small and talk about other people, what they should and shouldn’t do – judging them for what we believe are their shortcomings when in fact ultimately, what we are really saying is that they should be more like us; or, at the other end of the spectrum, to really expand our minds and use more percentage of our grey matter, we could discuss wonderful ideas, dreams, goals and plans. Imagine what could be achieved if all the time and energy invested in the unkind, judgemental and unwarranted talk about others, was instead used to make great discoveries, was instead spent on personal development, was used to make money to better other people’s lives. Because as Confucius said:

"He who wished to secure the good of others, has already secured his own."

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “If you can’t find anything nice to say, say nothing,” but a Winning Edge participant’s observation was this: “Destructive criticism is a dishonest way of praising yourself.” It’s a wonderful insight into harmful negative criticism and has so much greater depth.  It uncovers an uncomfortable truth about destructive criticism.
Too often when we use destructive criticism, its purpose is artificially to build ourselves up rather than help the person being criticised.  There is a warm but unhealthy glow of satisfaction in reducing the standing (performance, appearance, behaviour etc.) of the other person in relation to our own; and while we are condemning others, we can avoid the effort and discomfort of identifying and working on our own shortcomings!
This might sound like moralising, but it isn’t. When someone is criticising someone else, they are in fact chipping away at their own self-respect. What they are saying about the other person, is not factual, it’s their opinion of them; what they are in fact doing is telling someone more about what they are like – critical, bitchy, opinionated and mean. Whereas if you build someone else up both to them and to others, it boosts your self-esteem - you feel better about yourself; you like yourself more when you encourage others to feel better about themselves. In fact, it’s a double win because both you and the other person get a self-esteem boost and when your self-esteem goes up you feel worthy of more of the good things life has to offer. 

Best foot forward

Don’t get me wrong, I do love to chew the fat with a friend and get things off my chest if I’ve found someone’s actions or words irksome but again, that says more about me than it does about them. If I let it bother me and keep the negativity going, it says a lot about my inability to deal with my own expectations of how I believe others should and shouldn’t behave. We can sound so judgemental about others but all it’s saying is that they don’t behave how we would, which doesn’t make it right or wrong, just different.

People are people and it’s human nature to talk, discuss, share information and gossip so it’s about ensuring it doesn’t go down a cul-de-sac - a little Pity Party that just serves to perpetuate the negativity and pessimism.

Maybe set yourself a challenge – instead of giving up chocolate, alcohol or crisps for Lent, maybe stop any pointless or unhelpful negative criticism of any other person. Very often, we feel what we’re saying is harmless chit-chat but if we’re honest with ourselves, is it in fact a wee bit judgy..?  

Limit yourself only to praise and saying nice things.

This is not easy because you may need to begin by re-defining what you regard as pointless, helpful and unhelpful. As I have always said to my children with regards to playground banter– ‘Before you speak, think: is it true? Is it nice? Is it helpful?’ If it fails to tick those boxes, don’t say it.

If you succeed with this challenge, the reward is enormous. You’ll feel great about yourself – and so, probably, will lots of other people around you! It’s a win-win.


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