Office Politics 1: Guarding Your Words On the Job

Oh be careful little mouth what you say!

This childhood Sunday school song is a reminder that each of us should choose our words carefully, and only say things we are okay with being overheard or repeated.

There are several situations in which our words can do damage:

  1. You say something that is overheard by someone you didn’t intend to hear it.
  2. A confidant breaks your confidence and tells someone what you said (and thereby damages both relationships)
  3. You say something in anger that you later regret.

If you’ve ever been caught red-handed – that is – something you said was overheard by or repeated to the very person you didn’t want to hear it, then you know how painful and embarrassing that can be!

In your personal life, ill-spoken words can break down friendships or cause rifts in families that can last years, and the damage can’t be repaired.

When you are at work, bad-mouthing can damage relationships with co-workers, break trust, cost opportunities, or in extreme circumstances, cost you your job.

On the job, choose your words in such a way that you assume everything you say is going to be replayed or repeated. Even with a trusted colleague, assume nothing to be private, nothing secretive, and that your words could eventually make the rounds to everyone, including your boss.

I know it’s not likely, but IF your words were repeated, would you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, ashamed of what you had said? If you would not be proud to have your words repeated, then keep your comments to yourself, or share them with a family member or friend who is outside of work.

Here are a couple of good rules of thumb when you are on the job:

NO Gossip

Gossip is putting down a person or talking about a situation with a third party who is neither part of the problem nor the solution. If you need to blow off steam and rant – consider getting a therapist! DON’T get caught up in workplace gossip or going along with others by saying mean or inappropriate things about someone else.

NO Badmouthing the Company

There is an old saying – Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you are unhappy with the company, its policies, pay, or treatment of the employees (including yourself), here is a more beneficial course of action to take:

  1. Request a meeting with the appropriate person in the company who can legitimately address your concerns.
  2. Prepare for the meeting with well-thought out points, citing specific examples.
  3. Make sure your concerns are factual and not third-hand information, which can often be distorted.
  4. Address the situation from a business perspective, so offer solutions. Some of the best advice I ever received is “This is a business problem and it has a business solution.”
  5. If you are still unhappy with the company, and have taken appropriate action, but nothing has changed, perhaps it is time to consider a move.

Remember – The appropriate action for complaints against the company is NOT to gossip or “bad-mouthing” the company with your colleagues who are neither part of the problem nor the solution. The appropriate action I’ve outlined above, and your supervisors will appreciate this approach.

Guard your words carefully, and if they are repeated, it should be something you are proud of. If you are ever overheard, let someone overhear you saying something NICE about them! Be the person that others respect and repeatedly say about you, “She never says anything bad about anyone!”

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