Dear Dr. Sadaqat Ali,
I am a branch manager at a large firm and has been facing some bizarre problems from my team. Let me tell you an interesting fact that my team consists of very sound professional people (along with human weaknesses, of course). One of my main concerns at work is how we talk about each other. The staff lunchroom can be especially toxic. What feels most shocking to me is how our boss is often thrown under the bus. My second concern is that sometimes an employee sneaks in my office and starts complaining about any of his colleagues’ work style or misdeeds and wants me to keep his name in secrecy while settling the issue and my last concern (I’m sure other office managers face also) is how to stop rumor and gossip mill? Nothing is said that isn’t around the office within few minutes and even reaching the head office within an hour. I am having a hard time thinking of an appropriate solution to improvise this situation as I feel that giving a silent treatment to these issues can turn into havoc someday. What suggestions do you have for responding to such wisecracks?
Many of us have been in the same situation. We are joking around when somehow the topic turns to our boss and at some point, it crosses the line from play to poison. The group creates an ugly story, as the story is repeated and grows unchallenged, it feels true. In these situations, silence seems agreement. This kind of toxic conversation causes bad morale to spread across a team or organization. Instead of saying, “I see it differently,” others in the conversation remain silent or add to the wisecrack, amplifying the attack.
Why do we do this? Sometimes it’s because we don’t know the person’s true motives and we assume the worst. Just few of us know our managers, especially senior leaders really well. So, we judge them harshly. We don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes your colleague is motivated by jealousy, revenge, fear, or dislike. Regardless of the cause, you need to speak up when you see this inappropriate behavior. Here are some suggestions which can help you think about a problem and decide how to focus your conversation.
First of all, you can address the content, means you focus on the facts in the person’s statement. Focusing on content is usually the safest way to respond because you aren’t drawing any conclusions. You can say, “I don’t think he’s trying to shut us up. Why do you think that? It focuses the discussion toward what your boss said and why your colleague doesn’t believe it.
Secondly, if the comment is just one in a pattern of passive-aggressive comments this group uses to badmouth the boss. Then, you might address this pattern by saying, “I like the way we kid around with each other, but not when we start badmouthing others, who aren’t here to defend themselves.” Addressing the pattern focuses on your colleagues’ inappropriate behavior.