You know that sinking feeling you get when someone says, “Hey, I just wanna give you a heads up…” You’re left waiting to hear something that you just know is not something you really want to know. It’s usually a story about someone else, and most likely not flattering.
Essentially, this “heads-up” is gossip — it involves talking about a person in a way that you wouldn’t if they were in the conversation, with a negative intent, and is often nothing more than the desire to make ourselves feel a bit more righteous about our own well-placed goodness and actions in the world.
As a manager, you will eventually find yourself on both the giving and receiving end of these types of conversations. For example, maybe you’re interviewing candidates for a new position and one of your current team members comes to you to give you a heads-up on the candidate. They’ve worked with this person in the past and he or she didn’t perform well. Not only did they not perform well, but there was also an incident in their personal life during which the person was arrested. If you’re the hiring manager, this is going to give you pause. And if you’re the one sharing the information, it’s likely that you’re trying to help your colleague not make a poor hiring decision. These are both worthwhile concerns.
However, there are some other things to consider: What is the intent of sharing this information? Is it to feel as though you are in “in the know”?
And even when we have good intentions, is it always necessary to act? How skillful can we be with our actions?
For example, maybe I know that you are very thirsty and would like a drink of water, and I happen to have some water that I could share with you. However, I only have a few sips of water and we are with a large group of people who are also thirsty. It may not be skillful to offer the water only to you. Maybe it is best handled privately, or even better, it is best o find a way to arrange water for everyone.
Let’s return to our example of the new employee and look at the ways in which sharing about that prior experience may or may not be skillful. First, we could make sure that we are very specific about what we are sharing. That might look like sharing the specific behavior that the employee demonstrated versus sharing the details of a story that doesn’t focus on behavior. We can also express that the concern is ours alone by using “I” language. For example, “I have a concern and wanted to bring it to your attention.” This ensures that we aren’t simply projecting our prejudices and righteousness onto someone else and that it is clear that it is our concern and not necessarily anyone else’s.
Next, we can ask ourselves if what we are saying is true and if it is useful. In this example, we can pause to ask ourselves if we are embellishing any part of the story. While we can’t always know what will be useful to another person, we can be mindful of the potential impact – both positive and negative.
Lastly, we can pay attention to how we feel while we are sharing the information and how we feel afterwards.
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If we pay attention to how we are feeling in our body, then we can learn over time how to be more skillful with our words and actions.