October 29, 2007

Good day, team,

Here’s a challenge written last year that a client asked to see again.

In a recent off-site meeting, I was working with a team that made a commitment to each other. The commitment comes from an old Italian proverb that we translated to say:

Honor when present.
Praise when absent.
Assist when necessary.

Last week I talked with one of the managers on the team about the challenge of following through consistently on this commitment with peers and team members. We agreed that we were able to honor others when we were together, and that assisting others when necessary was also not so hard, but praising others when they weren’t around us was very difficult. Especially the people we don’t particularly like and have the hardest time with!

We also observed that we have a much harder time not gossiping about others when we’re talking with friends. The maxim “Familiarity breeds contempt” confirms that it’s much harder to be impeccable with our word when we’re talking with our closest friends and familiar business associates than with people we don’t know as well. Our familiarity gives us free license to voice our opinions and judgments, or so we think. I know that it always makes me feel uncomfortable when someone I’m friendly with starts to complain about someone else. I want to ask them not to do it, but I’m afraid they’ll judge me for judging them!

If we can keep in mind that none of us likes to be gossiped about, we might have more courage when it comes to saying, “I understand that you’re having trouble with that person, but I don’t think running them down is going to help.” Or maybe the solution is even simpler. We could just say, “I’m trying not to gossip” and leave it at that.

At the heart of it, none of us likes to be judged by others. We often see the same events from different perspectives, and judging others because they don’t see it our way is narrow-minded. Clients have said to me, “I can’t believe they accused me of something I didn’t do,” or “How could they assume that I was at fault for that mistake? Why can’t they see all the work I’ve done and appreciate that rather than focusing on what I did wrong?” We tend to make snap judgments when things don’t go the way we want them to and by doing so, often forget about all the good things people have done and how sincere they often are in their efforts.

Taking the high road in our interactions with others is one of the cornerstones of professional behavior. I’ve noticed that senior people in an organization seem to be the least petty and talkative about others. This discretion is a key to their success. They hear a lot of things about many people in a week, and yet they often don’t repeat what they hear. They allow much of the chatter to just go by them and try to stay focused on what’s really important: people’s strengths and the team’s results.

Your challenge this week is to try (yet again!) not to speak negatively about others. Take it one step further and try to praise others when they’re not around you. You may find this difficult to do, but you’ll also find that the more positively you speak about others, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the people you work with. Try also to be more aware of the desire to gossip with friends or family members rather than strangers. We can all help ourselves be better friends if we have the courage to remind each other to see people’s strengths rather than concentrating on their weaknesses.

As my very wise stepmother reminded me last week, great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about other people.

Have a great week!


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