Don’t air your troubles in public

Career Opportunities podcast logoDon’t air your troubles in public
By Douglas E. Welch


Listen: Don’t air your troubles in public

I could feel the chill as soon as I walked into the small bakery near my son’s school. I had come in to pick up a coffee, but ended up with this column. The chill had nothing to do with the weather or the air conditioning. The atmosphere was being created by two women seated towards the back of the room. I could immediately tell they were having a heated discussion about something. Humans seem to have an innate ability to recognize when others are unhappy and my “fight or flight” mechanisms went to full alert, even though I couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. That would soon change, though.

As I waited for my coffee to be made, I started to pick up part of the conversation, I wasn’t actively trying to eavesdrop (and would have preferred to have missed their conversation entirely), but their voices and tone carried well even over the low din of the room.

“Who is he to demand things?!? I don’t demand things from him. I ask nicely. What is his problem?” This is how the conversation went the 30 minutes or so I was there. Even after I sat across the room from the women, I could clearly hear their discussion. Suddenly it struck me. What if they had been talking about my company, my business or even me in such a public place? How would I feel to have my conflicts aired for everyone to hear? What if a competitor was happening to have lunch in the restaurant? What damage might be done from such an overheard conversation?

Yes, I know this seems a commonsense thing to avoid, but like most commonsense things, they are not always that common. In the heat of an issue or an argument, we can forget that there are those around us who: 1.) Don’t necessarily want to hear our conversations and 2.) Could use them to your disadvantage. Still, nearly everyday, I am privy to conversations that could have devastating results in the hands of others.

If you haven’t talked to your co-workers, partners and employees about this commonsensical problem, you should do it today. We can all use a small reminder that discretion is important in life and business. Think of how many times you have overheard a conversation in a restaurant or, more typically, a bar. Think how people regularly share private information as they shout into their cell phone to be heard. The truth is, we can get so engrossed in our own conversations that those around us simply disappear into the background. The only thing we see is the focus of our conversation.

We can all use a small reminder that discretion is important in life and business.

So, what are you to do if you really “need” to have a chance to rant about problems away from your office? There are a number of better places than a crowded restaurant near your work. How about a local park, where you can put some distance between you and others? I have found that a good brisk walk can also help to relieve the stress and/or anger you might be feeling. Grab a friend and take a walk, but, even then, pay attention to who might be walking or sitting nearby.

You might think that a closed conference room or office might be a good place to talk, but as I am sure you have found, office walls are not always that soundproof and sometimes the entire office can end up hearing every word of your loud conversation. In this case, it is almost better for strangers to hear your discussion instead of those it most effects. Finally, if you can find no other place, go out to your car, close the doors, turn up the music and shout to your heart’s content. In your car, no one can hear you scream…although you might look a bit odd to passerby.

When your having a difficult discussion, you don’t want others eavesdropping, accidentally or on-purpose. It can damage you, your reputation and your business. Look around you the next time you start to talk in public and notice who’s in earshot. Chances are they don’t want to hear about your troubles and you don’t want them to either.

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