Deirdre's popular blog on all things leadership and communication is the perfect example of her personal brand of "mild audacity". Because she gets to say what other won't, her messages get to the core of the real issues behind the challenges we face, the frustrations we feel, and the solutions to making it all better.

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The Great Temptation You Must Resist

A few weeks ago I attended a business luncheon and found myself on the very long buffet line.

As always, I was ravenously looking over the stations ahead, trying to figure out just what was lying in that tin tray up ahead.

That was when the woman waiting in front of me caught my eye.

Turns out I knew her, but barely. Amy and I met at another luncheon, just like this one. At that time she told me she was on staff at one of our local museums.

Here’s what followed:

  • Deirdre: “How’s it going at the museum?”
  • Amy: (pointing proudly at her name badge): “I’m not there anymore. I’m at this place now.”
  • Deirdre: “How great for you…Congratulations!”
  • Amy: “Yeah, the museum was just awful. They didn’t know what they were doing. This new place has had some tough times, but they just got through booting out most of their managers so it’s going to be great now.”
  • Deirdre: (nodding and smiling): “I wonder what’s in that tin tray up ahead.”

Why did I end this discussion?

Because in the span of 30 seconds Amy had given in to one of the greatest leadership temptations. Twice .

And I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

Stay with me. I’ll get into specifics in a second.

But first, let’s get real.

Our jobs can be tough. We work hard. Sometimes we get a bad deal.

  • We take on tasks that have nothing to do with our job descriptions and nobody seems to notice.
  • We work for bosses who don’t work as hard and then fail to support us.
  • We watch others get away with slacking off and we’re expected to keep on keeping on.

It’s not fair. In fact, it stinks sometimes.

The good news is there are plenty of times when we can change the situation.

But we all know that no job is perfect, that offices don’t function according to a textbook.

When this happens…when we are underappreciated, overworked, treated poorly…we reach out to others for support and validation.

That’s perfectly natural.

But.

How you choose to do it will make or break you.

What not to do? Give in to the greatest temptation.

The greatest temptation we face is to tell others about the irritating things going on at work. And when I say others, I mean many, many others:

  • Our co-workers, who gather together behind closed doors with hushed tones
  • The people we meet in groups at a networking happy hour
  • Those we don’t know all that well but we see on the line of a luncheon buffet

It feels comfortable and it feels right. And we feel a lot better afterwards.

But.

It also puts us at tremendous risk. Three, actually.

#1: That our comments will be passed on to the exact people we’re whining about.

#2: That people begin to know us as trash talkers. Because we are.

#3: That this will reflect a message about us as professionals. The fact that we aren’t.

When you carelessly talk trash about your organization, your colleagues, your boss, your board…you jeopardize your reputation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s with one person or a group. It doesn’t matter if it’s “just this once.”

Let me be clear. What I’m not saying is that you should never talk about these things.

You need to let off steam. Which means you do it with a few special people…people you can trust, who know that you are a professional. Ideally these people are outside of your professional circle.

With everyone else, as Ron Burgundy would say…

Yep. Stay Classy.

It’s easier than it sounds.

When you’ve been wronged it’s so tempting to tell others, just to remind them that you’re a good person. And, let’s be honest, to remind yourself of the same.

Resist.

Think of the most respected leaders in your community.

They’re the ones who always smile, talking enthusiastically about how great things are at their organizations.Even when it’s well known things are awry at their companies you can’t get them to crack.

They are positive. They have energy. They stay classy.

This week, notice how often you are tempted to complain…perhaps to whine a bit…about the people and situations at work.

Notice how easy it would be to just talk a bit…to let off steam…to feel validated.

Then…think of Amy. Just a few minute later I saw her trash-talking again. To the ten people at her table. Any guesses how it looked to others?

Not classy.

Resist the great temptation. Get that support elsewhere. Stay classy.

In the end, you won’t just be better for your organization, you won’t just be a better leader…

You’ll be seen as a professional. And others will want you on their side.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

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11 Responses to The Great Temptation You Must Resist

  1. Mark March 6, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    I end job interviews, quickly, when an applicant indicates they don’t plan to respect their current employer (“oh, I can come in the afternoons, they won’t know.” ) as I presume that is an indicator of how that person will act in the future. The same is true when I’m on the other side of the table. The temptation is to go with the trash talking a customer does about the last consultant (“oh, how could they do such a thing. That’s just terrible.”) when, in fact, there may be all sorts of reasons, unrelated to the consultant, to explain what happened.

    • Deirdre Maloney March 6, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      I do the same in the interview…and actually the quickest way to NOT get hired by me is to talk trash about your current/past employer IN the interview. It sounds so obvious but I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Cheri Friedman March 6, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    How true this is. I have two people I talk to about the bad things that I may have to deal with. We have an understanding on both sides that it goes no further than that. We use each other as relief valves so we can show a positive face to everyone else. As an ED, there is nothing worse that giving a bad example to my staff. If I talk negatively in public, how can I expect my staff to only talk positively in public. Leading by example is important no matter what level you are in an organization.

    • Deirdre Maloney March 6, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Absolutely – it’s just so much harder than it seems! Thanks for your great comment

  3. Rebecca Tall Brown (@BeccaAtTriLine) March 6, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Hi, Deirdre!
    I see this with my younger friends and with people of all ages who are stuck in what they consider a dead-end job.

    What they don’t get, and what you’re eloquently poking at, is that this disposition is the starter fluid that burns bridges!

    Really enjoy your blog and have been a silent reader for months,
    -Becca

    • Deirdre Maloney March 6, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      Thanks so much for your comment..and for following me for a bit. I’m glad your broke your silence!

  4. Betsy Reis March 6, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks, this is a great reminder!

  5. David M. Dye (@davidmdye) March 6, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Great point, Dierdre. Thanks for the powerful reminder. It’s almost never a good idea. I was at a family gathering and starting to slip into that temptation when my sister’s friend asked me where I worked. Yikes! Could do real damage that way.

    Take care,

    David

  6. Rancy Breece March 6, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Deirdre

    Thank you for reminding us about the need to stay classy. As a career consultant I see this a lot in clients – talking about their former employer and about poor management decisions led to the need to downsize. Other times they might be critical of a potential employer who did not hire them. In one-on-one sessions this was a good way for the job seeker to work through the emotions and get back on track. I was a confidant and a safe person with whom the client could discuss their emtions. However, sometimes these folks continued their diatribes in group networking meetings sharing their negative feelings with a larger audience. Not only did their negative talk reveal their lack of class, it made it difficult to get the group back on track as it gave others tacit permission to do the same. Not only that, those that chose to talk about their former employers or current prospects negatively often were not sought after after the formal meeting ended and the informal neworking began.

  7. Patricia Costa March 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Thank you Deirdre once again for your wise insight. Something to be said about the old adage, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Somehow, it will just come back and kick you. And as you point out so well, it is important to vent with someone you trust and who will give you honest feedback. It takes practice to avoid getting into gossip but it works.

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