A New Kind of Training – Being Positive at Work is a Skill: Gossip Part 1

blake-ross-croppedBy Blake Ross, Lead Front-End Developer

This article will be the first of two where we consider this simple possibility: might the way we speak about other people at work when those people are not present be a relational skill we could refine just a little bit and, in turn, reap big dividends in our career from a few small efforts?

Hopefully, I can convince you that this is absolutely a possibility! In fact, I’ve experienced something similar to this in my professional life recently, but on the technical expertise front rather than the relational expertise front.

I am a front-end developer, and my professional expertise / skills include something called CSS. Over the past year, I spent about six hours boosting my professional skills by learning a powerful piece of CSS called Flexbox. After learning Flexbox, I have been able to utilize that technology in several web projects, and it has likely reduced my total development time across these projects by at least 20 – 30 hours; and that’s contributed to those projects being under budget. What’s even more remarkable is this: I’m only a few months into being able to utilize Flexbox! It was a small investment up front, and the payoff is going to continue to be huge!

That example from my life is worth sharing because it helps us approach the question at hand: might the way you speak about others at work when they are not present be a similar relational skill you could refine with a few simple choices, yet pay off of with considerable gains in your lifelong career—namely, your desirability as a team member?

Yes! So let’s examine this possibility. Having now set before you the driving question, let me share an experience I once had at work while others were talking about someone when they weren’t present. See if you can connect with how this might undermine trust within a team.

office_gossipI clearly remember an experience at work one day where I found myself facing a peculiar and unusual thought: “I wonder what this person says about me when I’m not around.”

It happened as I was with two coworker friends and one of them struck up a conversation with the other about a friend all of us had in common. The person began offering commentary about our friend’s quirks and tendencies. The conversation they had was not harsh or mean (though I could say it leaned toward an oddly jovial sarcasm and flaw-finding), and frankly, it was a pretty funny conversation. All that aside, what I want to highlight about it was this: it was my not-present friend who was being sized-up, summarized, and generalized, and my talking friends weren’t pursuing something good or redemptive in the conversation.

As I listened, I came to the somewhat unpleasant realization: my friend that initiated this conversation and was doing most of the sharing is someone who seems to be fine with unredemptively caricaturing people he knows as a general source of conversation. And so, by extension, I found myself thinking that this person probably talks about me and caricatures who I am to other people when I am not around. Hence, “I wonder what this person says about me when I’m not around.”

But we’ve all been in those conversations, right? Sometimes we talk about our family members with other family members when they aren’t present, and that’s part of being family. And we probably all talk about our friends to other friends even when they aren’t present, and that’s part of having friends. And we probably all talk about our coworkers with other coworkers when they aren’t present and that’s part of working on a team. So, we aren’t looking to throw a wet blanket on that reality, and no one is looking to pull out the high-and-mighty card here.

No, the good thing we are pursuing here is simply this: when I do talk about other folks at work when they aren’t present, is there a way I can do that more skillfully such that my team is stronger and I strengthen my career as people more greatly desire me to be a part of their team? I think it’s a yes! We’ll try to build more vision for how in the next article. In the meantime, take inventory: what’s it like when you talk about others and they are not present? It’s important to ask this question about both coworkers AND clients. Most of us have some fantastic clients and most of us have some difficult clients. Might the way you sometimes discuss coworkers or clients when they are not present undermine our vision to have maximal, appropriately-founded trust amongst coworkers?

Farewell for now, comrade. Train like your career depended on it!