My general rule of thumb is: Don’t talk about people behind their backs. Talking – usually whining or lamenting – about someone who is not in your presence to another person just makes you look bad, feel bad, and does nothing to help the situation. It just cements strain in the relationship, especially if they find out what you said.
However, there comes a time when you need talk about people when they are not around. If you are working on a team to drive change, you will need to develop a strategy together about how to influence individuals to participate in your change initiative. This involves talking about people who are not in the room, some of whom are making it difficult to be nice.
So how do you have this conversation with your team, without feeling like you’re stabbing the subjects in the back? Here are some ground rules to use:
When you blame someone else for not doing what you wish they would do, it becomes an attack on character instead of a conversation about behavior. The No Blame rule means don’t attribute the behavior or inaction you are seeing to “the way they are.” Instead, separate the symptoms – the outward expression of resistance – from the underlying sources that may be causing the person to resist.
Use the Golden Rule
Don’t say something about someone else that you wouldn’t want said about you. Maintain an attitude of helpfulness, believe in the best in people, and keep their best interests in mind. Find a way to be honest while keeping the conversation positive. Always be respectful.
Move Toward Action
If you find the conversation has devolved into only complaining about someone, then stop immediately. Focus instead on what you can do to improve the situation. Resolve as a group to do something about it. Design a conversation or another way to address the issue with the individual or to get their support for change.
Just the thought of a group of people sitting around trying to figure out how to influence someone else to do something sounds like manipulation. Be aware of the tone of the conversation to stay away from a sense of strong-arming, tricking, or otherwise manipulating the subject of the conversation. Remember, implementing change is not a game to see who wins. If the team is trying to figure out how to get exactly what they want from someone, you’re leaning too far toward manipulation.
Conversations about change are conversations about people. If you don’t talk about people and how you will influence them to be part of the change, you are probably not talking about the right things. At the same time, you have to be careful that your conversations, especially about individuals, have the right tone.