In Focus: Mom Was Wrong: Words Can Hurt—and Confuse, Anger or Embarrass

Choosing your words carefully can prevent workplace friction

By Dana Wilkie Oct 8, 2015

There are times when you think you’re being nice—but you just sound passive-aggressive.

Hoping to be kind, you water down feedback by saying things like, “Maybe it’s just me, but…” While a comment like that usually comes from a good place, chances are the person hearing it won’t take it that way. They’ll think you’re not-so-subtly hiding what you’re really trying to say. (Forbes)

Some workplace conversations are just hard to have.

Like telling two of three applicants for a promotion that they won’t be getting one. Or speaking frankly about how unproductive your company’s meetings are. Asking these three basic questions can strip challenging conversations of emotion, friction.
(SHRM Online)

And some workplace conversations you shouldn’t have at all.

Is it gossip to spread the news that Ted and Rachel are getting married before Ted and Rachel have announced it publicly? Is it gossip to speculate whether Carol in accounting is expecting her second child? A December 2013 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling addressing no-gossip workplace policies raises this question: When does gossip cross the line from innocuous, garden-variety conversation to something so potentially hurtful, harmful or liable that companies are within their rights to forbid it?
(SHRM Online)

Finding the right words gets tricky when it comes to workplace romance.

So how do you have a conversation with employees who’ve started dating—especially if your company policy prohibits certain types of romances? According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, such policies are a lot stricter today than they were in 2005, the last time SHRM conducted its Workplace Romance survey of HR professionals.
(SHRM Online)

Or when it comes to that really touchy topic—difficult employees.

An angry, aggressive worker can be particularly hard to confront. Behavior like that displayed by Vester Flanagan—the ex-TV newsman who threatened co-workers and then later killed two journalists during a live Aug. 26 broadcast--should ideally be addressed with a workplace threat assessment rather than by referring the worker to an employee assistance program (EAP), according to experts on workplace risk and violence.
(SHRM Online)

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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