When Workplace Dialogue Is Counterproductive

Harvard Business Review

February 18, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

My post for January 21, “When Should You Keep Your Ideas to Yourself?” has led to an amazing discussion from readers around the world. If you haven’t had a chance to review these comments, please check them out. There are lots of interesting reflections and good ideas. If you submitted a comment or question for me, you can check out my response.

The great response to this post has inspired me to share a related question that I have posed to thousands of leaders from around the world: What percent of all interpersonal communication time in your organization is spent on these two dialogues?

– People talking about how smart, special, or wonderful they are (or listening while others do this).
– People talking about how stupid, bad, or inept someone else is (or listening while others do this).

The answers are very revealing. The average score from thousands of leaders around the world is about 60%. I have done this in North America, Asia and Europe. The results are surprisingly consistent.

What a waste of time!

How much do we learn when we are talking about how smart we are? Nothing.
How much do we learn when we are talking about how stupid someone else is? Nothing. How much of our lives are wasted in these two activities? Way too much.

Almost everyone that I meet feels over-committed and too busy. I have a strategy that may help. Reduce the “aren’t I smart” and “aren’t they stupid” dialogue time in your organization. You can’t prevent such discussions within your organization singlehandedly, of course, but you can set a good example by stopping yourself from doing it and gently reminding your colleagues to cut it out as well. Pointing out that 60% stat will certainly help.