The Chofetz Chaim confronts us with a classic scenario in office politics: A few employees are speaking with the boss and someone mentions a person whom the boss is known to dislike, either for personal or business reasons. One of the employees, wanting to win the boss’s favor, levels a barrage of criticism against this person.
The Chofetz Chaim sees this as a particularly dangerous strain of loshon hora, because it derives from flattery, which the Torah specifically prohibits when the person being flattered is committing a wrongdoing.
Instead of fueling the fire, says the Chofetz Chaim, the employee should have tried to make peace between the two antagonists. He should have reminded the boss of one of the good points of his adversary. Instead, the employee deepened the boss’s hatred toward that individual.
The Chofetz Chaim writes that flattery is very often the source of loshon hora. It is the dynamic at work when people are engaged in a negative conversation and one nods agreement to the loshon hora spoken or adds some negative thoughts of his own. He is condoning the loshon hora and adding to it, to feel included and win approval of the group.
All this stems from the basic weakness of the need to flatter, which according to a number of Rishonim (Early Commentators) is prohibited by the verse “You shall not bring guilt [lit. flatter] upon the land” (Bamidbar 35:33).
In a case where a person is sitting among a group and hears loshon hora, he is required:
• To come to the defense of the accused and to attempt to convince the people to stop their evil talk.
• At the very least, to refrain from increasing the loshon hora through words or facial expressions which indicate approval of what was said.
The Chofetz Chaim states that if the listener merely refrains from offering a defense, he is guilty of an element of flattery, because the motivation in refraining is to avoid saying something that would cause him to lose favor with his friends.