Here Are Four Opportunities to Say Nice Things About Your Colleagues

By Harvard Business Review
September 19, 2017

How we “narrate others” can influence their feelings about their work and themselves.

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 When we introduce new colleagues, tell a story about how a meeting went or share a colleague’s work, what we say can make a big difference in how they feel about themselves and their work. | 123RF Stock Image

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly given small opportunities to build up or put down our co-workers in the ways we talk about them.

Research shows that the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work. When someone mentions your work in an email and calls you “supertalented,” or talks about your unique strength of connecting with customers, you’re more likely to feel that your work has meaning. (And you can probably recall a few times that a colleague put you down as well, and used a narrative about you to undermine, stereotype, or devalue you.)

So how can we take advantage of the opportunities to narrate our colleagues in ways that cultivate positive self-meaning?  Here are four contexts in which you can cultivate meaningful relationships by talking positively about your colleagues:

CREATE POSITIVE FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Use introductions as a way to positively narrate your colleagues. Be imaginative and share details that highlight the ways in which the person is interesting.

COMMUNICATE INDIVIDUAL VALUE. Teams function better when they share information effectively. When you bring together a new team, tell stories about each person’s potential contributions to the group.

SUPPORT COLLEAGUES BEING UNDERMINED. Sometimes we observe a colleague being socially undermined, either intentionally or not. When someone is put down by others, we have the opportunity to build them up by talking about them positively.

LEVERAGE ENDINGS AND EXITS. Co-workers retire or leave for other jobs. People are laid off. Whether it was their choice or not, use your colleagues' exits to craft positive portraits of them. Create meaning by reflecting on your positive memories of working with them. View endings as a positive opportunity to do good for others.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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