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Are these the 5 worst comments your staff have made in the office?

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About two weeks ago, Talia Jane was fired from Yelp for penning down an article about how she views the company’s low pay. Unfortunately, after the open letter to her CEO was published, Jane was paid – but she paid for with her job.

While you might think the situation above doesn’t occur often, a new study by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, authors of Crucial Conversations and co-founders of VitalSmarts, found that almost all employees have either seen or suffered from a catastrophic comment like Jane did.

In fact, 83% were found to have witnessed co-workers say something that has had catastrophic results on their careers, reputations and businesses. While 69% have admitted to personally committing  that costly mistake.

Polling 780 employees online, the authors found that these mistakes cost 31% of respondents a pay increase, promotion or their job.

More than a fifth said it was responsible for undercutting or destroying the working relationship, while 11% revealed that it destroyed their reputation.

ALSO READ: 3 tips to emerge unscathed from sacking someone

Additionally, Grenny and Maxfield uncovered the top five most catastrophic comments bosses might fire staff over and they are:

Suicide by feedback (23%):
Similar to Talia Jane’s case, this happens when they think you can handle the truth—but you didn’t.

Gossip karma (21%)
When your staff talk about someone or something in confidence with a co-worker only to have their bad comments made public. Those harmless water cooler chats might not be so harmless after all.

Taboo topics (20%)
This happens when an employee says something about race, sex, politics or religion and others distorted it, misunderstood it, took it wrong or used it against them.

Word rage (20%)
When they lose their temper and used profanity or obscenities to make a point.

“Reply all” blunders (10%)
Accidentally sharing something harmful via technology (email, text, virtual meeting tools, etc).

Other (6%)
Refers to all other uncouth and/or unfortunate comments.

Maxfield revealed that while not saying anything is easy to do, recovering from verbal mistakes actually takes skill.

In fact, the data showed that more than one in four employees lack the skills to smooth things over and only 20% are extremely confident in their ability to fix mistakes.

READ MORE: What happens when you fire a Millennial

“It’s no surprise these catastrophic comments happen,” Maxfield commented.

“We’re all bound to have bad days, misjudge the situation or make a slip of the tongue. What is most concerning is our inability to recover in a way that actually repairs—rather than harms—relationships and careers.”

Beyond that, Grenny urged leaders to create an environment where people can safely speak up.

At the moment, 46% of respondents revealed that their workplace does not allow for mistakes or take apologies into account.

“While there are occasions when people’s words paint a clear picture of their incompetence or unacceptable moral judgment, these instances are the exception to the rule,” Grenny pointed out.

“Often, people speak up about issues they see as important to the business only to be punished for their honesty—even if it is controversial. Instead of punishing employees’ candor, leaders need to build the kind of culture where anyone can safely speak up to anyone else, regardless of power or position. And in those times when they may step out of line, there should be a plan that allows them to recover and get back on track.”

With today’s shortage of talent, do you think staff should be fired because of making such “catastrophic comments”? Or should organisations accept these honest opinions and change to engage employees better? Write to us in the comments sections below.

Image: Shutterstock

Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »

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