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What People Say about the People They Work With Reflects on Themselves By Doug Smart

Often, what people say about other people behind their backs is a nasty reflection on the talker. You might be surprised by what I heard from an IRS executive.

Several years ago, my office received an e-mailed inquiry about hiring me to keynote an upper-level management meeting for the U.S. Treasury Department. I personally called to follow-up and during the conversation the potential client stated she worked for Treasury. It's a huge organization so I asked, "Which agency in Treasury?" With hesitation and in a lowered voice she said, "the IRS." "Oh! I've done programs for the IRS before, which division?" There was a pause. It was obvious she was uncomfortable. Then she said in a tone that makes a non-question sound like a question, "Tax collections? Some people are uncomfortable with them -- you know, because of their reputation?" She told me she had worked there for years but she kept referring to coworkers as they. She said things like, "They are having problems with morale," instead of choosing to say, "We are having problems with morale." And I thought, "You don't sound too smart. You're ashamed of where you work and you're distancing yourself from it. You can't be contributing much. Do the agency and yourself a favor and change your attitude or get out."

Was I harsh? All I did was instinctively react to the silent message she sent. When I hear someone knocking where they work, I hear them down-grading themselves. Saying they when talking about the organization implies the talker is not a team player, not a leader, not committed, not willing to shoulder responsibility for improvement, and not particularly valuable in the grand scheme of things. And to me, that doesn't sound smart.

The bottom line is this: When you are on a boat, you never benefit from punching holes in the hull. Never denigrate the people you work with. This includes your boss, co-workers, and customers. If you ever find yourself on a boat you no longer want to be on, do everyone a favor and get off the boat!

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