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figbash's avatar

What do you say / how do you respond to negative comments in the workplace?

Asked by figbash (7463points) November 13th, 2009

I’m managing a wide variety of staff and I find that sometimes they can be really petty. I continue to hear that they’re trash-talking one another, the organization, etc. etc and generally promoting an environment with low morale. I’ve told them it needs to stop immediately but I also want to provide them with contructive ways to stop it, should someone else try to engage them in it.

When someone approaches me with negative communication, an attempt to trash-talk, or gossip, I usually just respond ”Ugh, I can’t even go there. I’ve got way too much on my plate right now” or ”You know things here can get petty and negative sometimes and I just don’t want to play into it

How do you handle it, diplomatically? Any good lines or phrases you always keep in yur back pocket to deflect those things?

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17 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

The best thing you can do in a management position is to make certain you aren’t contributing to the problem. Praise when you see fit and try to reward employees when you see them go above and beyond.

nzigler's avatar

Just let them know that it’s a workplace and unprofessional behavior (e.g. ‘trashtalking’) isn’t acceptable. Your staff needs to keep that out of the workplace (or more realistically, just off the radar).

Be careful that you address any and all incidents, brought to your attention, appropriately. For example, if someone says something truly offensive about another employee (might involve their sex, race, physical attributes, etc.) you have a responsibility to maintain a safe and comfortable work environment free from harassment or prejudice.

Zaku's avatar

I try to be an advocate for free and open communication about everything, and to dissolve bullshit. Whether it’s negative or positive doesn’t matter – whether it’s accurate, and whether needs are being met or not, do matter. Hushing what’s there to be said, or simply punishing negative talk, tends to backfire in one direction or another. Calling it out and engaging what’s really behind it with an attitude of “what’s so? what would make a difference?” or some other effective and straight context can address the actual issues causing the complaints.

mowens's avatar

I laugh it off.

figbash's avatar

I do try to see patterns or why it’s happening and track down causes if there’s consistent behavior. I also am very clear that while I’m up for open and honest communication, pettiness is not something I tolerate. I think I ‘manage’ this issue well and manage people well, but what I’m looking more specifically are phrases or sentences that they can use to deflect comments among themselves, in addition to what I use. I want to empower them to stop it themselves, when another employee tries to engage them.

Some of these comments are not legit work issues- they’re petty, interpersonal attacks.

RedPowerLady's avatar

As a manager I feel that you should be more upfront about why you don’t respond to the trash talking.

To deal with the problem on a larger scale have you thought about implementing an incentive program? Before you start the program you have a training, there are many places that will provide these trainings, about how to treat each other in the workplace. Then at the end of said training you discuss the new incentive program. If people follow this respectful attitude they will get rewarded. Incentive programs have been shown to be very effective, often moreso than punishment.

In addition put a comment box out so people have a safe way to vent their frustrations.

figbash's avatar

I have let them know why I don’t do it and why it’s important that they don’t – that if they are venting about a situation that requires a solution, I am always open to those kinds of discussions and I think that’s been effective so far.

Their responses have been that “it’s often the other person who engages them” and that it’s easy to play into, and they don’t know how to respond. I wanted to give them more ‘scripting’ to use, which is what leads me to the reason for asking this question.

I do agree with incentive programs in some cases, but in a healthcare work environment I use them selectively and for behaviors that promote positive patient care experience/quality and I think they have more punch that way. I guess I’m a little torn on incentivizing people for the small things they should be doing as part of their job like badging in to the time system, showing up for their shift or behaving maturely and respectfully.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@figbash I understand your dilemma but what you are doing now isn’t working completely, although as you said it is working a bit. I mean that in a kind way. Would you consider a training? We recently had a training by the EAP about being respectful in the workplace. It was interesting. Perhaps the incentive program could be short-lived following the training. Or you could omit it altogether but I think it would have a much greater impact if you followed with the incentives.

The only reason I keep suggesting these ideas is because I know how drama in thew workplace can get out of hand. It really is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with on a larger level. I think offering scripting is great (especially as part of a training) but I don’t think it is enough. Or it doesn’t sound like it would be.

That is just my two cents.

figbash's avatar

@RedPowerLady: No – you are absolutely right. Thank you. I really appreciate your help!

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

It’s going to happen no matter what. Perhaps it could be mentioned in performance evaluations if specific behavior is noticed.. but I wouldn’t expect everyone to play nice… ever.

janbb's avatar

I find “thank your for sharing” a great all-round subtle conversation stopper, but I think your ideas are very good, too.

Siren's avatar

I think the point is that office gossip and negative discussion can be disruptive in the work environment if it gets out of hand. If your employees are actually trying to engage you in trash talk and office gossip, it sounds as if your environment has gotten out of hand and you need to take back control of it.

My suggestion would be: The next time someone approaches you with a complaint or gossip, I would simply put my hand up to stop them and tell them there is a time to discuss this and this isn’t the time. They will have to make an appointment with you if you have a legitimate complaint. Perhaps your employees are so comfortable with you that they have lost their office etiquette and think they can talk to you at all hours of the work day.

I would sit down with the whole group and have a staff meeting. Tell them that people have been approaching you at all times regarding complaints and gossip and as of this moment anyone wishing to discuss anything with you regarding another colleague will have to set up an appointment. Forewarn them that anything they disclose to you will be documented, and if you feel it warrants action, you will take action at that point.

I think it is also reprehensible that an office employee is trash-talking about the company in front of everyone, or even to you. Isn’t this grounds for some kind of official reprimand at the least, termination if the employee is unhappy about their job or company?

Just my suggestion. :)

OpryLeigh's avatar

This happens a lot were I work. I usually just walk away from the situation and go to one of the offices downstairs where my friend, Jo, works. Everyone gets on in her office and there is no bitchiness. I really wish I was allowed to work in there!

knitfroggy's avatar

I am a supervisor at my workplace. We have a big issue with morale. What I have been taught to do when I over hear people bitching is to tell them something like “You know, griping about your schedule in the breakroom really isn’t going to solve anything is it? Why don’t you take it to your supervisor, that is the person that can help you with that issue.” Or if they come to be bitching about a certain policy or whatever, I try to do my best to explain to them why that policy is in effect. I also like to point out that wherever you work you are going to put up with some level of bullshit, so they should probably be happy they have a job and shut the hell up! I try to put it in more diplomatic terms though.

Silhouette's avatar

“Shhh, lets focus on the job at hand, shall we?”

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