Monday, April 6, 2009

On the Virtues of Shuttin' Yer Trap, Take Two

"We have no eternal allies or enemies, only perpetual interests." -- Lord Palmerston

"When the facts change, I change my mind." -- John Maynard Keynes

Some time back, I blogged about the virtues of resisting the urge to engage in any kind of negatively-themed venting in re co-workers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, in-laws, roommates, or anyone else in your sphere of influence.

I use words like 'resist' and 'urge' because I really do believe there's something human in us that drives us to want to take note of, appreciate, celebrate, and sometimes be frustrated with what we see. It's natural, then, that at times we're going to get pissed off, and we're going to vent. When it has to happen, all I can say is that it shouldn't be done within the same sphere -- in other words, spare any antipathy towards Roommate B from Roommate C, but if, say, your Mom has the time, and actually cares...

For this entry I'll just recap the two reasons already mentioned and will conclude by adding a third.

(1) Your own reputation. Because sh*t-talking is unprofessional in nearly any context or form, it hurts the perpetrator as much, if not more, than the victim. The old truisms really do apply -- if someone around you is constantly running off (negatively) at the mouth, they're likely dealing with their own issues, and you're probably his or her next subject when you're not in the room. I'm going to spend much of the next six months job-hunting, and one constant piece of advice I've gotten for phone calls, interviews, etc. is not to be negative. If you ever tell an interviewer, "I left my old job because it sucked and they all eat worms all day" you just look like a childish jerk.

(2) Your own conscience. Never engaging in bad-mouthing to begin with means never having to worry about what you said in the first place. Experience teaches me that no matter how many things are said "in confidence" and how many agreements are made about what does -- or doesn't "leave the room," you should reasonably expect anything negative you ever say about anyone, ever to make its way back -- and often in a worse form than it originally came in. Somehow, all the caveats, qualifiers, and other mitigating factors get lost in translation during the game of *telephone* and no one wins. So the beauty of just saying nothing and biting your tongue is that there's nothing to be twisted or misinterpreted in the first place. You can relax and never have to look over your shoulder or worry about compromise when you haven't done anything wrong in the first place.

So those were the two reasons I listed before, along with noting a positive development -- I can honestly say I've changed in my decade or so of adulthood experience in that I've learned and incorporated these lessons enough to stay out of the fray when it comes to colleague-bashing.

Here is a third reason worth adding:

(3) You might change your mind about someone. Well, here's the beauty of the whole mind-changing thing --we're free to do it. As one of the last century's great economists/statesmen/thinkers/traders quoted above notes, sometimes circumstances change, and sometimes minds follow. This is exactly why you should think twice -- and maybe more -- before letting a negative utterance about someone else leave your mouth. Once it leaves, you can't get it back.

Personally, I can think about a situation from several moons ago where someone was behaving in a way that I thought was pretty unacceptable. I went against the old instinct, bit my tongue, and somehow worked through it. It dawned on me recently that things really had changed -- I now felt decidedly neutral about something that once seemed highly-frustrating, and here was the best part of all -- there were no tracks to cover. Because I hadn't said a word to any of my co-workers in the first place, I didn't have any residual worries about something that came out six months ago gumming up the works today, when it wouldn't have even applied anymore at all, really...nor did I have that slimy feeling one might feel about being seen as a hypocrite for saying one thing and then doing something else...all because nothing was ever said in the first place.

If the world were really fair, this entry would never have to be written -- we'd have much more room for nuance, people would be as quick to repeat the positive as well as the negative, and no one would foment discord.

Well, here's the rub: It's not.

So to the degree you can help it, bite your tongue for your own professional and personal sake.

No comments: