Talking About Others: The Good, The Great and The Intolerable
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” How often do we actively or inactively participate in conversations regarding co-workers when they aren’t in the room?
The team at Fishbowl recently discussed how devastating it can be to people and organizations when conversations take place behind someone’s back.
Do we expect everyone to be perfect? No. We can simply do a little better than the day before. When a co-worker makes a mistake, don’t embarrass or belittle them, or speak behind their backs, instead offer support and honest feedback. Last week we talked about how we are the average of the five people we associate with the most. I encourage you to take a moment and assess how you show up for others at work. We can all “up our game” for one another.
Gossip is detrimental to trust in a relationship. Whether you’re at work talking about coworkers or at home talking about a neighbor, it’s in poor taste to denigrate someone behind their back, and it can lead to long-lasting negative consequences. It’s a better idea to take it to the source. Honestly confront people if there is an issue and keep your descriptions of people positive when they’re not around. There are few things more hurtful or damaging to a relationship than gossiping about someone.
Whether it’s spreading rumors, speaking critically, or otherwise badmouthing someone, it’s just not a good idea. Gossiping should have no place at work. If someone has done something to offend you, go to them directly and work the problem out. Don’t cling to anger and let it diminish your performance and ability to work in teams.
What happens when you hear a rumor about yourself that’s not accurate? Imagine how time-consuming and stressful it can be to restore your reputation when it’s been tainted by lies and half-truths spoken behind closed doors. Or maybe you hear something circulating about yourself that is accurate, but it’s private and potentially embarrassing. That likely indicates a breach of trust has occurred. You would probably feel at least a little angry and betrayed. You definitely wouldn’t want to share anything else with the individual who breached your trust.
Life is complex for us all. We never really know what another is going through. Speaking behind someone’s back innocently and or with the intent to hurt is one of the most anti-productive activities that inhibit businesses today. There’s no need to exacerbate or cause new problems by saying rude or undermining comments behind each other’s backs.
If I have an issue with you, I should come to you and have the courage to speak with you about the concern. So often when I’ve done that, even when I’ve been scared to do it, the outcome has been positive. We may not solve the problem, but we get closer to one another and it forms a deeper trust.
When Talking About Others Is A Good Thing
On the flip side, if you want to pay a huge compliment to someone, speak honestly and positively behind their back. I could say to Sarah, “The other day I was talking to Amber and I had this great experience talking with her. It was fascinating. She helped me understand some of the things I’m dealing with. She’s such a great conversationalist.” If I say that to Sarah and then Sarah later says that to Amber, what do you think will happen? Amber responds, “Wow, that’s pretty cool he feels that way.” Something so negative like talking behind someone’s back could be so positive when we do it in a constructive way.
Let’s remember Mark Twain’s advice, “The happy phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts and the happy delivery of it another.” Everyone can be a catalyst for uplifting people within an organization.