Don't Badmouth -- Tactic #9

Originally published 1/5/11

It's a known fact that misery loves company, so how could something that feels so natural and comfortable -- like complaining, criticizing or otherwise badmouthing an enemy -- be the wrong thing to do?

There are two good reasons to avoid badmouthing: First, whatever you think you're saying in confidence to a friend or trusted associate is likely to get back to the target; and Second, since political alliances tend to shift in business all the time, today's enemy or competitor may be tomorrows friend of convenience -- that is, unless your badmouthing is personal and alienates him/her.

I've tried to show in this series of blogs the fluidity of the political environment. Alliances shift all the time. People change jobs, responsibilities, goals, and ambitions. Projects fail, projects succeed, and the company moves forward. But personalized and harsh criticism lives virtually forever. That irritating power player who really made you angry when he tried to scapegoat you on his bombing project yesterday might be your best friend tomorrow when you need someone to help negate a competitor's political clout -- unless he found out you labeled him a weasel, and he took it personal.

Remember the old chestnut -- this isn't personal, its just business -- and try to take it too heart. If you feel compelled to criticize, then do it with someone without a connection to your employer, like your pet Golden Retriever.

Why do these criticisms end up coming back to the object of your dissatisfaction like iron filings to a magnet? Because they represent political currency that someone is likely to trade on. And don't think doing your badmouthing to a political neutral is the answer, either. They might pass it along because its interesting and they don't understand that the information has value.

If for some reason you mistakenly or uncontrollably badmouth someone against my advice, then at least have the sense to avoid loaded terms like: liar, cheat, scumbag, weasel, and similar terms. Those terms label someone's entire character, and are almost impossible to retract.

And if you do even that, then start assessing what the damage might be when the target of your badmouthing hears what you've said (no doubt embellished by those in the telephone game gossip path). You may choose to live with the damage, or you may decide you need to go bow and scrape before the person to try to negate it -- your choice, but at least be aware of what the potential consequences are.