Watch Your Mouth

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Date: Nov. 1999
From: Financial Executive(Vol. 15, Issue 6)
Publisher: Financial Executives International
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,240 words

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It's said that a duck's quack doesn't echo; no one knows why. But quack something about someone you work with, and you may as well have fired the shot heard 'round the world.

It's human nature to talk about others. It can be informative. It builds intimacy. It lets off steam. It may make us feel superior - or acutely uncomfortable. One CFO, for example, says he's heard a CEO, over a drink or dinner, put down his subordinates. "You can cut that kind of talk off when it comes from below," he notes ruefully, but not when your boss is doing it, he found.

And talking about others can create a ton of trouble, because one person's chit-chat is another person's slander. That's why "relationships work better when people don't talk about other people," according to Elizabeth Danziger, president of Worktalk Communications Consulting in Venice, Calif. But is there a difference between what's said in a restaurant or over the water cooler and what's said in a meeting - especially one in the executive suite?

"Is That Fred's Only Shirt?"

"There's formal and informal conversation," says Andy Geller, a New Jersey-based partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "There are things that are clear and things that are judgment calls. There are things that are job-related and things that are not." So, during a meeting, for example, he thinks it's fine to discuss whether Sue is innovative enough or whether Ian has sufficient global experience. "It identifies talent within the organization, and pinpoints where there are strengths, weaknesses and gaps," he says. He even thinks a discussion of something as personal as clothing sometimes is relevant. If Bob in accounting has a small wardrobe that isn't of Brooks Brothers caliber, for instance, "that's not the CEO's business," he explains. But if Bob has extensive client or customer contact and is slovenly, "That's a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A57829864