September 28, 2015

Talk-Sick Work Environments Harm Business Health: How to Detox Your Workplace

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Gossiping. Lashing out. Undermining. Triangulating. Shooting down. Judging. Criticizing. Chastising. Trivializing. Harassing. Misleading. Deceiving. Lying. Shaming. Blaming. Complaining. Stonewalling. Sadly, the number of ways we create a talk-sick (read: toxic) environment at work is countless.

It’s common knowledge these days that putting toxins into our bodies (cigarettes, drugs, refined sugar, alcohol, saturated fats, pesticides, mold, automotive exhaust, etc.) decreases our physical health.  Slowly, but surely, we’re beginning to realize that our professional systems become terribly compromised when they’re filled with hurtful speech and harmful language.

A workplace that is infected with talk-sick elements–where talking negatively to and about each other is widespread–will eventually wither and die. We sabotage our own success, well-being and bottom-line, when we contribute–or don’t do anything to stop–crippling communication from taking place and becoming contagious.

10 Tips to Eliminate Talk-Sick/Toxic Communication and Improve Your Organizational Health:

1. Use “We” Language – Reduce psychological distance and convey a sense of connection by using “we” instead of “you and “they.”

2. Use Bias-Free Language – Choose words that demonstrate an ethical concern for fairness and respect for groups based on race, gender or ethnicity as well as different identities and world views.

3. Avoid Using Gender-Linked Terms – Which imply exclusion of males or females.

4. Find People Right – Point out what people are doing well and praise them for it.

5. Problem Out Front – Partner with people to resolve problems rather than making them your problem.

6. Avoid Objectification – Create mutual respect and humanize your relationships by not communicating with others only when you need something from them or when they’re in your way of accomplishing a task.

7. Put People before Policies and Procedures – Prioritize respect and kindness by recognizing that policies and procedures are designed to serve people and not the other way around.

8. Make Others Feel Good – “People who feel good about themselves produce good results (The One Minute Manager).” How do your colleagues feel after they come into contact with you?

9. Focus on Connections over Contacts – We see and talk to people throughout our day, but rarely do we take the time to get to know more about them. It only takes a few minutes to find out how someone is feeling or doing.

10. Use Direct and Diplomatic Communications. If someone wronged you, or you’ve gotten word that they feel you’ve wronged them, take the first step and reach out to them directly to find out how the situation can be repaired. This simple (but rare) step can resolve so much drama and also models to others how conflict can be productively confronted in a respectful and inclusive environment.

Lee Broekman is an author, professor, trainer and coach. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.

Find her latest book Successful (Happy) Lawyering on