The way you talk can have ramifications as an employee, a team leader, a hiring manager, and anything in between.
Your words can reflect your character, the culture of the company, and whether your place of work looks like a good opportunity.
Often, when you say something about someone else, you end up saying something about yourself instead.
I’ll give you an example.
I was finishing my MBA here in Florida. And as part of that process, I was doing interviews all over the place, trying to spread my wings and see what was out there.
One such interview took place up in DC at a major tech company. It was a sprawling, fancy office full of sharply dressed people.
There was one notable interview with a man who I’ll call Jeff (Sidehack: don’t use real names in your articles. I’ve learned this the hard way.)
I remember sitting in Jeff’s corner office, as he sat back, talking about all the changes coming down the pipeline.
He didn’t ask me many questions about my resume — which is fine. Lots of my interviews go like this, you arrive to hear someone “practice talking” at you. In those situations, all you can do is listen and put your best foot forward.
His demeanor and his hogging of the microphone didn’t bother me. What did bother me — was how he spoke about people.
He spent half the interview telling me, “Yeah — we need to clean house. These people need to be let go. This other department needs to be cleaned out.”
“We have too many loose ends, people who aren’t pulling their weight.”
“We really need to fire half of these people.”
For me — these statements weren’t just red flags for a prospective company, they were red flags for him as a manager.
It came off as unprofessional. I was just meeting this guy for the first time and he was using that opportunity to tell me about all the people they should flush. It reflected poorly on how he thought about his own people. Ultimately, it tainted my view of him, the company, and the opportunity.
Admittedly, I’d still have liked to have received the job offer. It was a household name that would have shined nicely on my resume.
In the end, I didn’t get the offer. They passed. It was probably for the better.
Here is where things get interesting.
I took a new job. Things were going well. A year goes by. I get a notification that I have a message on LinkedIn.
I go to my profile and see a familiar name. It was from Jeff.
And can you guess what it said?
He was asking me if I knew of any good opportunities. His company had cleaned house, and he’d been part of that cleaning, let go. Apparently, all those people he’d been describing as anchors at the company had been in the same position he was in.
I’m assuming he didn’t remember some of the things he said during our interview. It was ironic to hear from him under such circumstances.
I offered him what assistance I could. He eventually got a job and I was happy for him. I don’t wish ill on anyone.
There’s no science that supports karma or corny adages, “What goes around comes around.”
It would, however, be worth considering the value of policing your language, how honest you are, and how you frame your ideas to other people. Science or not, our words have a way of boomeranging back to us.
In Jeff’s case, he may have been a bit too vocal in questioning the value of his coworkers.
The powers that be, the universe, karma — someone— heard Jeff. In turn, they decided to have the same question asked of him.
And, quite unfortunately, they came to a conclusion that was not in his favor.
So the next time you feel like going off on a rant or being brutally honest, check yourself. There’s a difference between fair complaints and criticisms, and saying things that might bring bad fortune your way.
Language matters — in more ways than most of us appreciate.