Trusted friend or permission to misbehave?

 In Leaders

Let’s face it we all have bad days at work.  You know – when you get home and need to complain about someone or something that happened that day.  You need to vent to process; you need to share the details, your reactions, and the emotions that go along with the episode.

Given the typical challenges of hierarchy, when you are a leader in an organization it is even more difficult to find a confidante with whom it is appropriate to have a discussion about a challenging colleague or a project that has ‘gone south’.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had that ‘trusted friend’ at work so we could vent at work instead?

Or would it?

I have another word for that can sometimes be used for ‘trusted friend’ — I call it ‘permission to misbehave’.   Stop and think about it — does your conversation with your trusted confidante maintain a professional tone and purpose?  Or, do you have to whisper or close the door so you can really get into it?

Of course there is a fine line between confidential, business-focused discussion and destructive gossip.  Use these questions to determine whether or not your conversation will have a constructive outcome or will simply contribute to the mess.

  • Is your discussion focused on the facts of the matter or is it focused on the personalities involved?
  • Is your discussion focused on the impact to the team, the project, or the company or is it focused on how you have been personally wronged?
  • Is your discussion focused on what you will do to address the situation or is it focused on identifying the ‘culprit’ and labeling them and their performance?

Be careful how you take advantage of a trusted friend at work, whether you were friends before you started working together or have become trusted friends since working together.  Make sure your conversations at work are focused on the work, how it is going, and how you might have an impact on improving a situation that needs adjustment.  Don’t’ get caught in the habit if ‘venting’ about people, complaining about situations, or bashing the company.  Those conversations are a reflection of you as a leader.

There are certainly times that you must discuss a specific person and his or her strengths, weaknesses, and fit within the organization.  There are also times when you have to dig into why a project went wrong and who/what/why it went wrong.  But those conversations should be conducted with very specific people and a very specific intention.

As a leader, always imagine the details of your conversation with your friend becoming available in a public forum.  Will your words and tone reflect a gossip or a complainer?  Or, will your words reflect a leader who is focused on moving a person, the team, or the company forward?


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