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5 career-killing conversations to avoid at work

Sharon Florentine | April 12, 2016
No matter how progressive, open and casual your workplace, there are some conversations that should never take place. Here are five conversations to avoid at all costs.

No matter how progressive, open and casual your workplace, there are some conversations that should be off-limits no matter what. A new study from corporate and leadership education and training firm VitalSmarts found that of 775 respondents to a recent VitalSmarts survey on workplace behavior, 83 percent of employees witnessed their colleagues say something that has had catastrophic results on their careers, reputations and businesses.

The study also found that 69 percent of employees admit to personally committing a catastrophic comment. These slips of the tongue and momentary lapses of judgment can be just as damaging on an individual's career. Thirty-one percent say it cost them a promotion, a raise or even their job. Twenty-seven percent say it undercut or destroyed a working relationship, and 11 percent say it destroyed their reputation.

"These conversations are so catastrophic because they allow others a glimpse of our 'true' selves. Human beings, especially in a professional setting, are all wearing a 'mask' of how we're supposed to be and act. The data we trust the most is what we get when others don't intend for us to have that -- unguarded moments, proprietary opinions, slips of the tongue," says David Maxfield, co-author of the study and vice president of research at VitalSmarts.

According to VitalSmarts research, here are the top 5 most common catastrophic conversations you should avoid at all costs, and how to recover.

1. Suicide by feedback

This is one of the most common scenarios, Maxfield says; perhaps your judgment's skewed or you've read your colleague -- or worse, your boss or manager -- wrong and decide to chime in with feedback when you'd be better off staying silent. In most cases, unless someone specifically asks for feedback and that feedback can be delivered tactfully, privately and discreetly, perhaps it's better to say nothing.

"'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all' -- that adage is true in what our research found. One survey respondent says he gave his manager feedback in a public meeting. While he didn't feel the feedback was especially harsh, what he didn't realize was that his manager's boss was in attendance -- and the respondent's manager felt ambushed and humiliated," Maxfield says.

2. Gossip karma

This can happen in any situation where you are exposing your true feelings about a person or a situation, says Maxfield. It could even happen if you're rehearsing how to approach a difficult conversation with a colleague or manager, or if you're just venting to a work friend -- depending on your level of trust and understanding, it could really backfire, he says.


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