Avoiding ‘pink slips of the tongue’ at work
Now you’ve done it.
Maybe you aired workplace frustrations through Facebook, venting in a colorful complaint that a co-worker shared with your bosses.
Perhaps you lost your cool in a meeting. You broadcast a few expletives on a conference call, figuring you had pressed “Mute.” Or you delivered a client’s private gossip to your whole office, thanks to a wayward click of “Reply All.”
You’re not alone. A survey earlier this year suggests that more than half of workers will commit a “catastrophic comment” that could damage their careers, reputations or businesses. Recovering often hinges on thorough apologies, personal sacrifice and rebuilt trust, said researcher David Maxfield.
“It happens to all of us from time to time. I don’t think any of us have particularly learned how to deal with it when it does. We could all use help,” said Maxfield, an author and vice president at Provo, Utah-based VitalSmarts.
Nearly 70 percent of more than 700 survey respondents admitted to making such risky remarks, according to results compiled by the corporate training and consulting firm. Eighty-three percent said they have witnessed colleagues do the same.
Many of the poll participants focus on human resources or rank as managers and supervisors, said Maxfield, who suspects damaging comments could be more common among other professionals. VitalSmarts recruited respondents through a company email list.
At the University of Pittsburgh, professor James Craft said workers might prevent verbal pitfalls by understanding “the culture you’re in and what your organization’s key values are.”
“If you’re in a Christian, evangelical organization, the kind of (acceptable) behaviors are going to be different from an organization that runs bars,” said Craft, who specializes in business administration and human resources.
He suggested workers rely in part on diplomatic questions — rather than pointed comments — to engage colleagues with contrary points of view. Another recommendation: Avoid talking about personal feelings and seek advice instead of delivering opinions, Craft said.
“I think it’s important to consciously focus on the specific organization, business or purpose when you make comments,” he said. He advocated humility and a willingness to listen.
Still, some amount of missteps may be inevitable. Such “pink slips of the tongue” can cost workers their jobs or promotions, destroy reputations or undermine working relationships, the VitalSmarts survey shows.
To limit fallout, offenders might have to blunt their egos. Observers may assume a blunder reveals a person’s true motives and sentiments, Maxfield said.
“If you offended in public, apologize in public,” he said. His take: “The bandage needs to be large enough to cover the wound.”
Some more severe offenders might commit time and money to demonstrate contrition and resurrect confidence, traveling to distant offices for in-person conversations, Maxfield said.
“I wish I could say how to prevent” the mistakes, he said. “I think they happen seldom enough that most of us do the best practices to prevent them — and most of us slip up, anyway.”