You have the right to remain silent. Words impressed on us ever since the Miranda decision. It’s interesting how many arrestees choose to talk even after having been advised of this right. Silence is a precious commodity. Those who exercise it are rewarded with information, tolerance and the ineffable product of ‘nothing.’ That is they might not go to jail, be convicted or be fired. Silent poker players stay in the game and scrape the chips off the table at dawn. Silence indeed is golden.
Employers and employees who keep their own counsel by remaining silent when all manner of comebacks, witticisms and barbs are churning inside, live another day. The danger of expression in times of anger is releasing monsters that can never be recaptured. Words – once spoken – can never be unsaid.
An Easy Weapon to Deploy
The problem is speech is so easy for most of us and the harm is often not immediately apparent. Shoot someone and they bleed but even a quiet utterance of vitriol works more like poison than a bullet. The victim – a co-worker, employee or an employer – can be damaged so insidiously their injuries won’t appear for a long time.
The lethal weapon of the tongue (including email, Facebook, Twitter, or any other medium) has the unique attribute of killing the target and ricocheting back to the perpetrator wounding him or her as well. Wise people have suggested that harmful words, spoken as gossip or quick retorts, will one day be aimed at me if I didn’t watch myself. So I distanced myself or refused to entertain the negative verbal salvos. Not only did the gossip’s reputation suffer but the object of their viciousness was so damaged as to make him or her useless to the attacker in the future. This sort of backfire is common regardless of their working relationship: lateral, top down, bottom to top. Sullying the reputation or launching an emotional attack on another might seem the right thing to do today, but in a week or a month the victim’s position in the company might have changed. Where such changes would have benefited the attacker they’re now dead ends.
Forms of Negativism
The poison of negative speech can come in many forms: gossip, negativism, chronic complaining, or grumpiness. It’s difficult to reroute the negative person who’s been at it for a long time. They’re not interested in hearing honest appraisals of their behavior. The most welcomed response is agreement with their negativism and that can breed more and more discontent in the workplace.
The negative extrovert can be one of the worst people to have in your workplace. This is someone who is unhappy and will seek out anyone who is willing to hear his or her complaints. Employers can sometimes determine whether a potential hire is a negative person in the interview process by asking about their previous employer. If such a question seems to open the gates of gossip and grumpiness it’s time to end the interview and move onto the next applicant.
Where an employer has been unfortunate enough to hire a negative person, counseling, training and progressive discipline are called for. And of course if these measures are unsuccessful it’s best to cut your losses and start anew.
Tim Sharp is the Director of Curriculum of TSOD.com, Training Services On Demand – the nation’s top on-site corporate and government training company.