Office Talk - When to React, and When to Not React

Suits & Sneaks Office Talk

You may have a select few coworkers who are gods of positive energy.  No matter what’s thrown at them, they grasp onto it, give it their best shot, and keep walking forward with a smile on their face.  My former boss was this person.  And I - the lucky employee.  We constantly had curveballs thrown at us, yet my boss always kept a smile on his face.  No matter how much of what we received could send 90% of most people jumping out of their office windows in frustration, he just smiled and said “ok, let me get back to you.”  He’d then approach me with this new “opportunity” of work to get done.  He always put a positive spin to it.  And you know why?  Because he should. 

When you’re a people manager your first and most important responsibility is to lead by example.    Even if you’re not yet in a leadership position, make this your top priority because that will get you there. 

So let me throw out a few all-too-common office chatter scenes and advise you on whether you should REACT or NOT REACT:

  1. Did you hear so-and-so said such-and-such to Boss-person yesterday?  DON’T REACT.

    There, I started with the easy one first.  Do not spend your time, on someone else’s dime, talking gossip.  We’re all adults here, and trust me, you do not want to be the one seen as the teenage child chatting it up next to the water cooler.  An intelligent person can deduce, that if you’re going to gossip to them about others, you will one day gossip to others about them.  So just stop, it doesn’t look good on you.

  2. Similarly, you overhear rumors that coworkers are talking about you:  DON’T REACT.  

In fact, consider this horrible gesture towards you to be a compliment.  Insecure people spread rumors.  And if you’re the one they’re spreading rumors about, it’s most likely because they’re worried about some quality or skillset you have that they don’t.  Just smile, keep your head up, and strive for nothing more than to be your personal best.  When you do that, the only person who looks bad is most certainly not you. 

     3.  The meeting you prepped so long for just got pushed back:  REACT...CONSTRUCTIVELY.

Accept the rescheduled time as there could be a valid reason.  Then, 24 hours prior to your new meeting time, send the culprit a vibrant email saying, “Hi [Culprit] – Just wanted to thank you in advance for our time scheduled tomorrow.  I’m eager to share my insights and observations on [xyz subject matter] with you as I truly believe this can bring value to your team [or insert some other corporate jargon here].  Again thanks so much for this opportunity and I look forward to tomorrow!  Kind regards – [Victim].”  The recipient will appreciate being held accountable to the meeting time and may even feel a bit enchanted by your enthusiasm.

    4.  You overhear rumors that somebody else is taking your promotion:  REACT.  BUT DO NOT WHINE. 

The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right?  Gosh I hate that saying.  BUT, here’s one thing I’ve learned since managing people – there is no possible way I will know what thoughts my employee is having unless he or she tells me.  Just no possible way.  So if you want or wanted something, make sure your boss first knows it.  (Hint – you have to tell them.)  Second, ask what stand-out qualifications your boss was looking for in that promoted position.  If you do your homework ahead of time to preempt these said qualifications, you’ll have your responses ready as to how you feel your contributions over the last year easily demonstrate you’ve got what it takes to fill those shoes.  Then, ask when the next promotional opportunity will be and clearly state that you want the position. 

   5.  What you were originally instructed to do is completely wrong and you have to start all over.  DON’T REACT. 

Stay positive and in control of your emotions.  Allow me to demonstrate two different reactions to a common situation. 

[Scene: Shitake (not the mushroom) hits the fan] 

Person A says: “Are you flipping serious??  I KNEW we shouldn’t have done that, and I even told him but he didn’t listen!”  (Sorry guys, for some reason the masculine pronoun in this scenario just seems to fit.  But if it helps, you have my full approval to assume Person A is of the female gender, just this once.)

Person B says: “Oh wow, really?  Ok well let’s make sure we all fully understand the task, and no worries, we’ll get through this together.”

My #1 rule of thumb, especially if you are a leader or aspire to be – never ever show your frustration or stress to those around you.  It makes you look like you’re not fit for your role and would have a hard time taking on additional responsibilities come promotion time.  Disclaimer:  Don’t confuse this advice with not saying “no” when you just can’t do something.  If you don’t have the bandwidth to tackle the situation at hand, then by all means speak up, but do so tactfully and professionally.  Cool, calm, and collected will always win in the long-run.

Simple conclusion: People vibes, whether negative or positive, are contagious.  You choose the vibes you want people to remember you by.

Leaders - I’d love to hear from you!  What makes a standout employee look promotable versus incapable when curveballs are thrown at them?  Which of their actions, good or bad, do you store in your memory for a rainy or sun-shiny day?  Please share below!