Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 2

(This is the second post in an ongoing series for Friday’s post about work.  These posts are some guidance to others after my 20+ years in companies ranging in size from Fortune 10 to three people.  Topics are presented in no particular order.  Go to the bottom of this post for links to earlier posts.)

#2 Don’t Talk Negatively About Anyone Behind Their Back

There are many reasons not to talk negatively about anyone behind their back, but I think they all boil down to three:

  1. The person you are criticizing will find out.
  2. It makes you look bad.
  3. Not talking negatively makes you look good.

Before you criticize someone behind their back, assume they will find out and consider the repercussions.   Imagine that person coming to your desk and saying “I heard you said [this] about me.  Did you really say that?”   Do you feel comfortable with that person standing in front of you asking that?  Do you want to answer?  If you find yourself saying “sure, I’ll talk to them about it,” then perhaps you should go directly to them for some constructive criticism and keep the topic just between the two of you.

Why will they find out?  They will find out because the person (or people) you are telling will tell someone else what you said or go directly to the person whom you are criticizing.  (You must assume no trust in the workplace, which we’ll talk about next week.) The person you are telling might do so with the best of intentions.  You can imagine them going to the criticized person and saying something innocuous like “You know what?  Fred thought you could have done a better job on that report, and I think he’s right.  I was going to come talk to you as well.”  Although they are trying to help your mutual co-worker, they have revealed you were talking behind their back.  Not good.

Not only do you look bad when the person finds out, but you look bad regardless. You look bad because, as I wrote last week, no one likes a complainer or a negative person.  But here there is more.  Studies have proven that when we criticize someone to others, the negative factors reflect right back on us.  Thus, when you criticize someone for any reason, you open the door to others looking at you in a similar way.  If you say that Bob talks too fast, people wonder if you talk to fast.  If you say Bob dresses badly, people wonder if you dress badly.  In short, you end up looking just as bad as the person you are criticizing.  Why go there?   Leave negative thoughts about you some place else.

Conversely, if you don’t openly criticize people behind their back, your coworkers view you positively, and the hallway gossips have nothing to complain about.  You want to be the one that is viewed as getting along with everyone and liking everyone.  Keep in mind, I’m not telling you not to have negative thoughts about coworkers or that you must like all your coworkers.  I’m suggesting that you avoid criticizing others behind their backs.  Nothing good can come of it.

Never start those conversations yourself. When a group starts to talk about someone not there, either excuse yourself or stay quiet.  If someone provides an obvious opening for you to be critical, don’t fall in the trap.  Here are a two examples of traps that can easily grab you:

Example #1

Them:  Do you really think Fred will survive under the new boss?  Wow, that should be a challenge.

Wrong answer:  I think he can survive.  Fred definitely has his moments where he drives too hard, too fast, but he’s very competent. Even though you’ve closed with a compliment of Fred, your negative comment is just unnecessary and invites the problems we’ve cited above.

Right answer:  I hadn’t thought about it.  I’m sure the two of them will figure it out.

Example #2

Them:  If I ever have to work on another project with Fred, I’m going to kill myself.  What an ignorant, self-centered, jerk!

Wrong answer:  I am so sorry.  I have had my moments with him as well.  As much as I try to ignore him, it doesn’t work. You haven’t been as overt as your co-worker, but you are agreeing with her, which is the same as criticizing Fred.  The door is open for her to say to her boss, “I won’t work with Fred again. [You] feels the same way.”  Ouch.

Right answer:  I am sorry that you are frustrated.  You might talk with Fred or his boss, but that’s your call.  What are you doing for lunch?

Following my advice above is tough.  None of us like everyone with whom we work.  The trick is keeping it to ourselves.


Previous Posts

1. Don’t Complain or Make Waves.


5 Responses to Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 3 « Life With Spidey

  2. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 4 « Life With Spidey

  3. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 5 « Life With Spidey

  4. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 6 « Life With Spidey

  5. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Recap of Parts 1-6 « Life With Spidey

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