A New Kind of Training – Being Positive At Work Is A Skill: Gossip Part 2

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

In a previous article, we began to consider a particular relational skill that, if refined and cultivated in the workplace, could pay great dividends for our career. Namely, we began the process of examining how we talk about others when they are not present. And as promised, we will now begin to build vision for how to begin refining this skill in the workplace.

And I’d like to start by talking about my wife.

I think my wife is the most exceptional, special woman in the world. She is exquisite in her personhood and she is unbearably hot. Being her husband is like being entrusted with caring for the most delicate, precious, gorgeous, priceless, awe-inspiring vase ever created. And yet she is powerful and strong like a military Humvee, full of purpose and come-through-for-you-when-you-need-it-most-ness. For this reason, I sometimes think of her as my “Hummer-vase,” even using that name for her once in my marriage vows.

When I talk with someone about our marriage or about her as a person, I am committed to always honor her with my words when she is not present. Even if what I am discussing with a close friend is a conflict we had, something she did that was really frustrating to me or a character flaw I’m learning to love through. If I choose to talk about my wife when she is not around, my goal is to honor her even if I am talking about not-so-savory things (and to be sure, all of us have not-so-savory things about ourselves).

If you have been around me when I’ve talked about my wife or our marriage, I want you to have the sense that I am very honest with you, unusually transparent, and determined to honor my wife with my words without glossing over anything.

So there is a simple articulation of the vision I have for how I, as a husband, will speak about my wife. Now let me draw upon this to offer up to you some vision for how you and I can speak about others in the workplace, and you decide if it’s something you want to adopt or experiment with. Importantly: judge for yourself if you believe this vision has the potential to pay dividends for your career by strengthening your team, by making you more desirable to have on a team, or by making you front-of-mind when your friends leave your workplace and a year later at another job, they need to fill a higher paying, more satisfying role like yours and think “You know, we should contact this person I used to work with.”

Here’s the vision: In the workplace, when I speak about someone when they are not present, whether coworker or client, I will do so redemptively or purposefully, seeking ways to honor the person about whom I am discussing negative things if negative things need to be discussed. Further, I will not engage in purposelessly, unredemptively negative conversation about others, whether coworker or client.

Here’s an example we can use to imagine how this might flesh out.

Let’s say a manager is managing poorly in a particular way, and it’s impairing the team. The manager has several other managerial strengths, and while this weak spot is very significant and it’s affecting everything and must be addressed, you can tell that if just this one area could be strengthened, you’d have plenty of reason to continue to want to work with this person.

the-officeOne day, this manager does something to drop the ball and it causes stress for several people, including you. People are frustrated, they start to talk about it with plenty of venting, and the manager is not present. Someone directs a question at you and now you’re pulled into the conversation. With all your valid frustration, you have the option to add to the pile of negativity being created by giving your perspective of the problem and venting about the stress and complications it’s added to the project. But instead, you engage the conversation purposefully and redemptively—not eschewing the conversation because it’s negative, but contributing to it purposefully and honorably. So you say “You know, I’ll say this up front: what I want is for this person to work here for a long time, to totally rock out her/his job, because there’s plenty of stuff she/he does well, like ___ and ___ and ___. But it’s true that this is a major issue and we need to talk about it with her/him. This is what I think is going on…” and then you say all the negative stuff you need to say. You honor the manager and you make apparent that in talking about this negative thing, you are pursuing something good.

But, let me state the obvious and say that this does not necessarily come easily. For some of us it may come easily, and for others of us who are big-time venters who habitually talk negatively about others to others, we may have to train very hard for this skill acquisition (and that’s probably a clue that we ourselves could be unknowingly stinking up the workplace and would stand to gain greatly by getting this part of our professional lives in order).

Like all skills, it is likely something we will need to deliberately choose to do, practice it, fail at it, reflect on successes and failures after attempts are made, and in time, watch it become our default mode of operation. It’ll all be worth it when your ex-coworker gives you that call asking if you’d come in and interview for a much higher paying, more flexible, cooler job opportunity. “We should call ___, because when we worked together he/she clearly knew their stuff and was also just a great member of the team.”

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