The Trouble with Hearsay

I once overheard a conversation where someone was communicating negative feedback. The only thing was the person giving the feedback allegedly wasn’t the one who felt that way – he had overheard someone else and wanted to share the criticism with the person it was directed towards. The person who received the feedback, which was a bit on the harsh side, replied back with “she’s my friend, she’d never say something like that about me or anyone else.”

It got me thinking about several different points. First, it’s amazing how many of us allow criticism that we don’t even hear to affect us. I once shared a story in my e-zine about when I was younger, someone told me that someone else said I was the worst dancer they’d ever seen. Even though I didn’t hear the feedback directly, it bothered me to the point where I hated dancing for years.

Second, hearsay is flawed by design. It’s like the game telephone where someone starts with a message and that message changes with each person it gets passed on to and by the time it reaches the fifth person, it’s completely different from what was originally said. But it’s also susceptible to things such as being taken out of context, mishearing what was said or misunderstanding what was said.

Finally, it made me admire the person that the criticism was directed towards. He had enough confidence in himself and his friendship with the person who was allegedly criticizing him that he knew not to let it get to him. Countless friendships have ended because of hearsay – and sometimes, that was the purpose of the “middleman” sharing the feedback. Sometimes, the “middleman” loses his or her friendship because he or she was confided in and broke that trust.

When it comes to hearsay, the best approach is to simply ignore it. When I don’t hear it or see it directly, I assume it’s not true unless I have reason to believe otherwise (but even then, I’m very careful to not jump to conclusions). When I hear someone venting or confiding in me with their opinions, I treat it the way I’d want them to handle it if the roles were reversed – I keep it to myself. The only time I will participate is when I feel someone is being harmed (and this includes businesses). But my approach is simple – I tell them what I’ve heard with the caveat that it may be out of context, but I felt it was important enough for them to at least investigate.

One would think that we live in a civilized society, but there are always people out there who are willing to take shortcuts no matter what the cost or are just plain miserable and enjoy seeing others suffer. The rest of us have the power to think rationally and either not participate in their foolish game or not allow it to get to us. It’s the only way can turn it into a winning situation.

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