Are you making this common leadership mistake that erodes your trust and competence?

It's a crucial leadership mistake to make disparaging comments about others in the organization. When problems arise, handle them directly and respectfully. You will earn trust from others and demonstrate your competence in handling tough situations.
It’s a crucial leadership mistake to make disparaging comments about others in the organization. When problems arise, handle them directly and respectfully. You will earn trust from others and demonstrate your competence for handling tough situations.

Sometimes this mistake happens behind closed doors. Other times within earshot of others. It often happens nonchalantly, like when two colleagues are having a casual chat that develops into a full-blown venting session. It might seem like a valid stress-relieving technique at the time, or at least innocent without ramifications. But never will this mistake provide a good outcome.

The mistake? When a manager makes a disparaging or off-handed comment about another person in the organization. Or worse, when a leader publicly and purposefully denigrates the performance of another. There are few things that will erode trust and competence faster than this common occurrence.

Why is this mistake so costly to your trust and competence?

There are several reasons.

  • If a manager is talking about someone behind their back, the chances are high that everyone is a target at some point.
  • Effective leaders support their team, at all levels of the organization, rather than berate them. They find ways to work through an issue constructively instead of assigning blame as an excuse.
  • Talking about a person behind their back indicates that the manager is not addressing the issue directly and respectfully.

Everyone can play a role in removing this behavior from your workplace

Sometimes you can get caught up in the moment, whether you are the one spouting or perhaps you are simply agreeing with someone else’s remarks. The latter is not any better. When you are on the receiving end of hearing something that sounds more like gossip or an ill-placed critique of someone, back out as graciously as you can. Here are some ideas for what to say:

  • “I’m not sure about that since I wasn’t there.”
  • “You probably have good reason to be upset but I think you should discuss how you’re feeling with [the person’s name] to figure out how to avoid this next time.” Then move quickly to another topic!
  • “Probably good to speak directly with [the person’s name] so you can clear up the miscommunication.”
  • “I’d feel better staying outside of this one as I think you two are in a better position to work through the problem together.”
  • “Let’s focus on something that we have control over.”

It takes ‘two to tango’ so participating in the behavior is just as problematic as starting it.

Everyone can play a role in removing this type of dialogue from your workplace culture. By doing so, you eliminate high levels of negativity and increase trust, loyalty, job satisfaction and outcomes. Which environment would you rather work in?

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2 comments

  1. judyringer says:

    Thank you, Robin! I so appreciate this post, especially because you offer wonderful solutions. It’s easy to get trapped into colluding in workplace gossip, as a leader or as a coworker. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. You offer excellent suggestions.

    • Robin says:

      Glad you find these helpful, Judy! I like having some options ready to pull from when the conversation starts a downward spiral and gets out of control fast. That’s exactly when it can be tricky to change direction.

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