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When to Shut Your Pie Hole at Work

When to Shut Your Pie Hole at Work

We live in an age of “sharing,” when everyone seems to have a profoundly important opinion about everything, especially how OTHERS should behave. But sometimes the best career advice is to just shut up.

Keeping your mouth shut can be a big career booster, especially when it seems that so many have forgotten this basic lesson.

1. Customer’s do not want to hear conversations between employees.

I went to Whole Foods for lunch the other day and spent way too much on a kale salad, but I always take a big scoop of salmon dip from the free tasting platter (and TWO crackers) just to even things out.

When I got to the cashier, she was in the middle of a conversation with a fellow employee. I think they were debating the nutritional benefits of hard vs. soft tofu. Or maybe it was kale vs. spinach. At some point the cashier glanced at me and smiled as she scanned the price code on my recycled paper salad container, but continued the conversation with her workmate. She only paused long enough to tell me the price. “Five hundred dollars,” I think she said. Now, the actual delay might have been only 20 seconds, but it felt a lot longer because it seemed as if I was invisible to both of them the entire time.

This less-than-great customer service experience probably won’t keep me from going back to Whole Foods, but next time I’m taking an even bigger scoop of the free salmon dip.

My point is that when you are in any customer-facing situation, be very conscious of the conversations you have with coworkers. Even if you think you are alone in an aisle, customer’s in other aisles can still hear your banter. And of course the worst thing you can do is complain about customers within earshot of other customers.

2. Colleagues do not want to hear how you have been “wronged” at work.

Bhodi Sanders interviewed for a regional manager position at his company and in his mind there was no question that he was the best qualified candidate. So when someone from outside the company was selected for the position, a woman with very little practical experience in their specific industry, he was frustrated and angry. Which was a natural, understandable reaction.

Bhodi couldn’t contain his frustration and took every opportunity to tell his colleagues at work how badly he had been wronged. At first they were sympathetic, some even agreeing with him. But months later when the topic was still coming up, people began talking about his inability to let it go. Their perception of Bhodi shifted, he seemed small and catty to his colleagues, and when the next regional manager position opened up, he wasn’t even considered.

Here’s the truth: at some point (maybe at many points) in your career, you are going to be “wronged.” And while it is perfectly natural to want to tell others and gain their validation, this isn’t fair to your colleagues at work. Your complaints put pressure on them and ultimately can hurt your career potential.

How you respond to being wronged at work will tell others a lot about your character. If Bhodi had swallowed his pride and then focused on helping the new regional manager become successful in her role, people would have noticed. If Bhodi had been willing to self-reflect and seek to authentically understand why he wasn’t selected, in a positive and productive manner, people would have noticed.

So the bad situation could have been turned into a positive for Bhodi, but in this case it didn’t. His career flat-lined for a few years, and then he moved on to a new employer. By the way, his new colleagues get to hear his sob story many, many times. You can decide how you think this ultimately impacted his career with the new employer.

3. Colleagues do not want to hear about your sexual adventures or “conquests,” nor your alcholol-fueled antics.

Honestly I’m surprised that I even have to address this, but I’ve heard enough stories from people whose colleagues think it is appropriate that I want to at least mention it. Beyond the legal issue of creating an uncomfortable work environment for some people, it’s also really just stupid.

I have a strong libertarian streak in me and pass no judgement on what people do in their personal lives. You can sleep with whoever, drink or inject whatever, and I really don’t care. But if you bring it into the workplace,  even by just mentioning it, you are opening yourself up to the judgement of others.

So on Monday morning when someone asks “How was your weekend,” your response should NEVER include any of these words or phrases:

  • Hooking up
  • Molly
  • Tinder
  • Jello shot
  • Hookah
  • Ginger Pubes

… I think that’s enough. You either get it by now, or you don’t

 4. No one at work needs to hear your political/social commentary.

Almost every business depends upon the ability of a diverse workforce to work together productively. People with different backgrounds and perspectives need to be able to align their efforts and work as a cohesive team – which means it is almost always best to avoid conversation topics that have the potential to be intensely divisive including:

  • Politics
  • Social Justice
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Whether LinkedIn should ban or censor photos of “babes.”

There are plenty of opportunities at work to have great conversations with people, without creating division, discomfort or hurt feelings. And when someone else crosses the line, this should not be viewed as permission for you to do the same. Sometimes the very best thing to say is… nothing.