Contractor Tip Of The Month: Stop the Negative Chatter!

Words: Damian Lang

Stop the Negative Chatter! 

Damian Lang

Let’s face it - people will talk negatively at times about our companies. Competition will run us down in an attempt to expose our weaknesses. Due to jealousy or spitefulness, even our own friends or relatives may say negative things about us. While you can’t control outside forces, if the people who work inside your company are running co-workers, management or the company down, you have serious issues. For, when negative chatter about your company goes on at your workplace (or at the bar after work), your company will struggle as a result. Imagine it’s like a football game where your team is driving to get the ball into the opponent's end zone.  What if your quarterback calls a play, then while walking up to the line, one of the players whispers to a couple others that he doesn’t agree with the play the quarterback just called. This confusion will most likely hinder the team from moving the ball down the field. And if even one of the 11 players isn’t on the same page, the likelihood of scoring a touchdown goes down the toilet. Similarly, these whisperings are going on at many companies keeping them from winning the game of business. And unfortunately, it’s very difficult for company management (including my own at times) to control this negative chatter. Here’s what happens: an employee will tell a coworker he doesn’t like the company's travel policy, bonus program or the way management treated him. This simple negative statement serves as a spark that starts the wildfire. Others feel permitted to air their grievances “outside the huddle” - however big or small. All of a sudden, the team isn’t playing from the same playbook anymore. And not doing so makes it about as hard to maintain business profitability as that football team scoring a touchdown under the same circumstances. If negative chatter is such a big issue, why is it routinely ignored? I think it’s because many company owners believe “it’s just part of doing business,” and therefore they ignore the signs that display a deeper issue among the team. In some cases, management may even blame it on their employees instead of acknowledging that this negativity always starts at the top and permeates its way down and throughout the organization. So if you have negative chatter going on - and you’re at the top - it’s stemming somehow from your leadership style, and I can bet your profits are suffering as a result. In fact, I would bet that if we were to measure the positive-to-negative chatter index at your company against your company’s profitability, the two results would virtually mirror one another. In other words, 30% positivity in the chatter index equates to being in the 30% profit quartile compared to others in your industry. 80% positivity in the chatter index and you’d be real close to 80% of industry standard profit margins. How can you ensure the chatter going on at your workplace is positive? Chatter between co-workers can be addressed by informing those involved that if they have an issue with another co-worker, to go directly to that person and discuss it. This will give the other person involved the opportunity to work things out while maintaining respect and dignity for each other by not spreading rumors. Because no one appreciates a gossiper. Therefore, the person who deals with a source of conflict directly and with discretion will become a very popular person at work. Of course, let your team know that if things can’t be resolved amongst themselves, or if the other person is doing something unethical, to bring it to upper management’s attention. On the other hand, chatter about the company or its policies can be addressed by informing those involved the effect negative chatter has, not only the team, but their own ability to advance at the company. To turn negative chatter into positive chatter, I highly recommend regular meetings (which is the huddle) to keep the communication lines open at all times and from top to bottom. Hold the meetings weekly with your staff and field leaders, and monthly (or no more than quarterly) with all company employees. Let your team know that if everyone at the company isn’t on the same page, your company will lose just like that football team does when players aren’t playing from the same playbook. Inform them at the meetings that if they have issues, their chance to discuss them is now, and that you would appreciate it if they do not discuss issues outside of the meeting or office walls. Commit to them that management will do their best to address and fix any issues. And, if you can’t find a solution, you will report back and explain why things must stay the way they are. Even if they don’t like the end result, the communication will minimize the negative chatter as they are clear on your policies and the reasons behind them. The bottom line is this, you must mean what you say and follow through by taking meeting notes, reviewing them and responding to concerns at the next meeting. With all of the issues out on the table, there will be very little to chatter about. And if there is, it’ll likely be more positive than negative - and so will your year-end P&L statement!
Damian Lang owns and operates several companies in Ohio. He is the inventor of the Grout Hog-Grout Delivery System, Mud Hog mortar mixers, Hog Leg wall-bracing system, and several other labor-saving devices used in the construction industry. His latest venture is Malta Dynamics Safety Company that focuses on bringing quality safety products to construction customers at the best possible prices. He writes for Masonry Magazine each month and consults with many of the leading contractors in the country.
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