Gossip is defined as two people talking about another person who is not present in the conversation. While the term "gossip" usually has a negative connotation, it is actually not all bad. Apparently, up to 75% of neurotypical communication consists of gossip, but only 5% of this is "bad" gossip (Stuff You Should Know: How Gossip Works podcast - citation needed).
Why people gossip
When people try to gossip to you, it is usually a good thing for you, because it often means that they trust you, feel that you are important to share social information with, are including you in the workplace's social group, or want to befriend you (this may not always be the case). It is normal, and extremely common, for all neurotypical people to gossip, and everyone will be a subject of gossip at some point, especially if you are a member of a social group such as a workplace or a class. This is generally because it is a way for them to connect with each other and establish social hierarchies, and because they are nosy/curious about other people's business (autistic people may also be nosy about other people's business, and that is okay!) People are also always comparing themselves to other people, and that is another function of gossip that most often does not occur out loud.
How to respond to & cope with gossip
Most people will be satisfied if you just listen to them, and convey to them that you are doing so by using cues such as nodding and/or making affirmative remarks (like "mhm," "oh wow," "that's crazy," etc.). All people want to have their feelings and opinions validated, and neurotypical people especially may take it personally if they feel that you are not listening to them or agreeing with them. Therefore, even if you do not agree with what a gossiping person is saying, it is up to you whether you want to share your opinion, or keep it to yourself. You may feel guilty for not standing up for someone else if you feel that they are being spoken badly of, but in most cases, that person will never know that the gossip about them is occurring. Even though it might feel wrong, just listening to people gossip and pretending like you agree with them can be a way of protecting yourself in a social group.
How to escape gossip
Neurotypical people may be offended if you disagree with or choose not to listen to their gossip. However, if gossip is triggering for you, or you do not feel comfortable with it, that is okay too. There are "polite" ways to "escape" gossip, though if you do this too many times, people may become suspicious of you.
- Make an excuse that is considered socially appropriate - "Gotta respond to this call" (lol)
- Try to tune it out? Think about something else while trying to nod occasionally? (This is an art I have not mastered!)
- Try to, very gently, express your opposing viewpoint (this is a very delicate form of art)
- Use the sandwich method (validate feelings first, then state your critique, then end with validating feelings again)