I have successfully eliminated the phrase “people are saying,” from effective communication in my parish. Parishioners now understand that “someone said…” or “so-and-so said….” or the aforementioned, “people are saying that…,” act like noise cancelling earphones when these phrases preface any so-called “constructive” criticism. I don’t listen to this kind of blather anymore.
The only purpose of heresay gossip is to intimidate or to incite fear. The people I serve are well informed- when I am listening to you; I want to know what you have to say. When news or information must be prefaced by “people are saying,” or the like, the origin is almost always the person delivering the information.
Usually I ask the messenger, “what people?” This often shuts it down. Sometimes, I will go as far as to say, “if so and so wanted me to know, they will tell me.” I have learned, especially in my current position, that indirect communication is the root of most intractable interpersonal conflict.
I realize that gossip, especially when it is repeated in a way that portrays the messenger as well meaning, is frightening and uncomfortable. It is difficult to assert onself in the face of someone who may seem to have the other’s best interests at heart.
Remember: constructive criticism does not need a works- cited page. Real, honest feedback comes from a loving heart. With practice, the human spirit can distinguish between loving encouragement and plain-old fearmongering. If the critic is so insecure that they must footnote their remarks by crediting their invisible friends, their words are little more than an imaginary thesis on the nothingness of nothing. You have a right to politely tell them that you aren’t interested.
Dan O’Connor addresses this scenario brilliantly. I hope that the technique he presents in this video is helpful for colleagues who are faced with this issue in their own parish. Please watch!
If you are struggling with a related situation right now, don’t give up and don’t give in. Keep your head high. Keep doing what is right. You are an awesome human being. You are made in God’s image.