RE: Gossip vs. venting
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2002 13:33:01 -0700 (MST)
In my experience with community, gossip AND venting are normal, common
occurrences in communities of all kinds. Since people come to community, and
especially cohousing, with a wide variety of communication skills and
experiences and life and cultural histories, trying to manage gossip and
venting is a large task that requires some thought and usually considerable
energy. It is not at all uncommon for cohousing groups to not have energy in
dealing with the artifacts  of gossip and venting, and thus people just live
with these annoyances and uncomfortable feelings. Many groups have no format
at all to bring up stuff which is bugging people. Without any group format,
these things don't go away, they just don't get out to the group except
perhaps as "explosions".

One very simple and highly effective way to do this is to set up an annual
meeting where you review your community. My advice is to spend 75% of this
meeting patting yourself on the back for the miracles you have created. Give
awards, recognitions, prizes, adulations, etc. Then spend some time looking
at things people would like to improve in the coming year. If you Facilitate
this well you can get very constructive venting without damaging the group
morale at all.

Another simple structure that I have used in workshops with communities and
other organizations is what I call a comfort cluster. I have participants
spend time by themselves thinking over what are the events, who are the
people, what are the actions, which give them some level of discomfort. I
have them rate discomfort levels by an arbitrary scale of 1-3. I also have
them write these discomforts down privately with their rankings, from most
to least.  This then becomes fodder for small group sharing activities. In
the large group, participants list their high discomforts on individual
cards they hand in to me.  I "filter" these as appropriate and use them as
small group discussion topics with a set of questions built into the process
so people focus on certain aspects, such as what values (beliefs) might be
underneath the discomfort, is there a way to turn the discomfort into a
neutral or even comfortable place, etc. The primary thing I do in filtering
the cards is removing names. Depending on the nature of the work I am hired
to do, I might feedback to individuals privately things that came up about
them, although usually I use other formats for this.

You can do this fairly quickly as an agenda item for a meeting, and get a
lot of intense but usually quite cathartic conversations happening in only
30 minutes time.

Rob Sandelin
Sky Valley Environments  <>
Field skills training for student naturalists
Floriferous [at]

-----Original Message-----
From: cohousing-l-admin [at]
[mailto:cohousing-l-admin [at]]On Behalf Of Sharon Villines
Sent: Wednesday, December 25, 2002 11:36 AM
To: cohousing-l [at]
Subject: Re: [C-L]_Gossip vs. venting

On 12/25/2002 12:54 PM, "Jayne Kulikauskas" <cml [at]> wrote:

> One issue that has come up is determining when
> and how it is helpful for people to discuss negative feelings.  People do
> not always immediately want to talk to a person they are upset with.
> Sometimes they want a sounding board or a second opinion on the validity
> their complaint.  Sometimes they just want to vent. Sometimes they just
> don't want to confront even though they should.

Talking to someone else about the problem, in my experience, is not only
normal and natural but helpful. It is not always helpful to talk to the
person with whom one had a conflict and is often impossible. More often than
not if you could talk to the person, there wouldn't have been a conflict in
the first place. Expecting the upset person to talk to the person directly
is rarely a good idea. "If they coulda, they woulda."

> We have seen cases in which the person being complained to has felt the
> problem required action and proceeded to tell others.

This is the problem.  First actions by anyone should be to clarify the
situation, this of necessity means including all the parties.

I can't count the number of times someone has been deeply and audaciously
hurt by something I never did or even intended to do. Since many people are
intimidated by me (I am told) they do not approach me when they feel
offended, ignored, or excluded. Since one of my major faults is believing
what people say, this is a deadly combination.

They say "I hate parties with no dancing, don¹t invite me" so I don't. Then
they go ballistic. Since they won't call and say "Why didn't you invite me
when you invited all my friends" it  helps a lot that a third party does.
But it does not help if instead the third party starts a campaign to defend
the "injured" party without clarifying what happened.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
Where we are having a rare white Christmas, the nice kind where all the
roads are melting while everything else is white. My son, however lives in
Upstate New York where they are getting 18-26 inches.

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