Loose lips – career slips

By the time the plane taxied down the runway, I had overheard private details about three people; how poorly they were performing, their personal problems and how much others knew about it. So had everyone else within earshot.

As the two salesmen discussed the poor results of their colleagues from other geographic regions, they were oblivious of the damage that had been done. . . I knew one of the people they were roasting.

Their indiscretion drove home the importance of keeping confidences and being discreet.

Each day, all of us have opportunities to share a tidbit, "tattle" on a colleague or indulge in some juicy gossip. It seems harmless enough. But, like the men on the plane, loose lips can impact the careers of others. What many yakkers don't realize, however, is the damage they do to themselves.

If you are free with confidential or personal information, you will quickly earn a reputation as a bigmouth. Your information will dry up as people realize you will share their secrets just as readily as you shared someone else's.

When you reveal private information about your boss or your peers, you may be doing so to feel more important or knowledgeable only to find that it comes back to haunt you later.

Information is a powerful currency we all want to own in a workplace. Trading black market information is quite common and can be useful. However, like any currency, it can corrupt.

Here are a few unwritten rules for keeping your foot out of your mouth:

·        When someone complains to you about a co-worker, listen and say, "What do you think you could do to help the situation?" You will soon find people will trust you with their problems and see you as a constructive problem-solver. The worst thing you can do is chime in with your own list of negatives. It's not productive and you'll become vulnerable because the complainer will include you when complaining to the next person: "I'm not the only one who feels this way...."

·        When you hear an ugly rumor about someone, keep it to yourself. When another person says, "Did you hear the latest about so and so?" reply with, a caring remark rather than a critical one. For example, "I hope it's not true", "If it's true, she must feel terribly embarrassed", "I feel for him." The speaker will gauge their remarks by your reaction and will learn an important piece of information about you- you have character.

·        Try to see both sides. When you hear one side of a story ask the teller what they know about the other half. Purposely try to get into the other person's shoes and offer possible explanations. For example, "He's been under a lot of pressure lately to improve sales. Maybe that's why he's coming down so hard on everyone."

·        While listening to criticisms about another person, use empathy that is "you" oriented not "I" oriented. For example, "I can understand how you could feel that way." rather than, "I think that was a crummy thing for him to do."

·        When someone tries to pry confidential information out of you, say, "I really don't feel comfortable sharing this, since I promised I wouldn't. I know you wouldn't feel safe telling me things if you thought I couldn't keep confidences."

·        When you feel you must tell your boss about a potentially serious situation, use facts not theatre. Calmly state what you know to be true and why you've decided to tell him or her. For example, "I hear him make at least three, lengthy personal phone calls each day. While he's talking, customers can't get through to him so I wind up getting his calls."

All of us need to be a grape on the vine to find out how to get things done in the informal organization. Trying to stay out of office politics is impossible since you're a part of them whether you want to be or not.

If you try to "stay above all that political nonsense", you could earn a reputation as arrogant and righteous. When your information sources dry up, you are at a distinct career disadvantage.

The difference is how you play the game. Like any team sport, the goal is to work together to accomplish an end result, not necessarily to be MVP.

In the world of work, those who play carefully with confidential information, tend to be awarded MVP by their bosses as well as their co-workers.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.