I still remember clearly the day, probably 25 years ago, where I reacted to someone’s comment – in front of a group – with, “That’s bullshit, Fred!”
I have to explain that I learned MANY years ago that profanity in the workplace was unacceptable. I left that behind when I got my first career job. The group had never heard one blue word from me before. So why might it be appropriate to react with that much force, especially in front of a group? It could be quite dangerous, in fact.
But what I was doing in this case was reinforcing a critical point: That he had suggested overstepping a boundary of ethical standards in our business. As the manager, it was my role to not only establish what the boundary was, but to give immediate feedback that he was talking about crossing the line. And with some level of force, to communicate that ethical standards are non-negotiable. In this case, because he had mentioned it in front of a group, I had to respond to everyone so they all understood this important point.
Imagine that I’d gone into some long explanation of ethics, standards, behavior, and all that. Most likely people would have become LESS clear about where the boundaries were and whether any negotiation would be allowed.
I could have reprimanded this person in private, but that would have had two consequences. First, he might have felt that the proverbial “ton of bricks” came down on his head, perhaps for what he thought was a minor mistake. Second, the rest of the group would not see my response, and even may have thought that I was OK with his suggestion.
Here’s the lesson: Use strong reactions very rarely, otherwise they’ll lose their impact. Reserve them for the occasions where it’s important to make a BIG point very quickly. Make sure that relationships are mended after the fact, to address any ill feelings people may be harboring as a result. And always remember that these events make excellent fodder for the rumor mill, which quickly gets out of control.
by Carl Dierschow