What Should You Do When You Catch Your Friends Talking Badly About You?

So you've caught them talking smack. Here's what to do next. 

It’s been happening all season on The Real Housewives of New York City, the ladies catching each other talking about each other. Jules Wainstein sat listening to Bethenny Frankel and Carole Radziwill chat about her in front of her on a bus ride to Mohegan Sun Casino. At Dorinda Medley’s house in the Berkshires, it was Luann de Lesseps' turn to catch Bethenny and Carole talking about her. While Jules didn’t approach them directly, Luann had no problem speaking up. 

But what is the right thing to do if you overhear someone talking about you? We called in national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, who runs The Protocol School of Texas, and says like it or not, people are always going to talk behind your back. It’s how you handle it that counts. 

“People talk behind your back, socially or corporately, they do,” she says. “First, you have to remember people are allowed a difference of opinion, it’s conversation. It’s when it turns into backstabbing and gossip that it hurts. If you overhear something where someone just disagrees with you, well, it is what it is.”

Diane says your reaction depends on the tone, conversation, and topic you have overheard. 

“If you do overhear it, you have several different options,” she says. “You can ignore it, the thinking being if they’re talking about you the next person who leaves the room, they’re talking about them. You can address it, you can step into the conversation and say, ‘may I join you, especially if the conversation is about me?’ You turn the awkwardness back to them. Say. ‘I’d like to weigh in. Lastly, you can step in and say, ‘hey, would you mind when you’re through with the conversation, I’d like to talk to you privately.”

Diane adds that the most appropriate way is to handle it privately.

“In the case of the Housewives that’s part of the fun, if they handled it privately we wouldn’t know what was going on,” she laughs.

But in real life, she adds it may just be a friend who is venting, and if it’s not malicious, they can easily apologize. 

“They should own it and say listen I’m sorry I spoke out of turn, I should have taken it to you,” she says. 

The person being talked about can also approach the friend—if they really are friends, and simply say, “I overheard what you said and I have to tell you I find it offensive or hurtful, we’re good enough friends that I would have liked you to come to me.”

“Screaming in someone’s face is going to be reciprocated, so keep your dignity,” she says.

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