Friday, March 29, 2013

IT Pros: How Can You Avoid Putting Your Foot in Your Mouth?

Don Gabor, How to Avoid Foot in Mouth DiseaseLet's face it--as a rule, IT pros are not known for their conversation prowess or tact. Techies like to say what's on their mind no matter who they are talking to or what situation they are in.

Chances are, you probably know a techie or two who have made big verbal blunders that left the people they were talking to--and everyone in the room--cringing.

Of course, there are the savvy IT Pros (the motivated ones who want to get ahead in their careers) who know that one way to avoid putting their foot in their mouth is to not bring up "taboo topics."

The most common taboo topics in polite conversation are:

  • Politics, Religion, or Sex (The big three!)
  • Gory news events
  • Unfortunate personal issues or gossip
  • Business Intelligence or Proprietary Information 

Yes, these topics are important and interesting. But they are best to avoid discussing in business and social situations simply because they can lead to arguments, bring conversation to a halt, make people uncomfortable, or all the aforementioned. 

What if you say the wrong thing?

If you are the one who has asked an uncomfortable question or brings up a taboo topic and you realize it, do everyone a favor and don’t press the issue. For example, if you made the mistake of asking about a job the person no longer has, don’t ask why. All that is needed is a simple “I’m sorry to hear that,” or “Are you looking for something else? What are you up to now?” 
If you find yourself embarrassed by a fleeting, tactless comment you have made off the cuff, don’t dig the hole deeper by ignoring the fact that you’ve just put your foot in your mouth. The best response is, “I’m really sorry, that was a thoughtless thing to say, I apologize,” and then change the subject. The idea is to acknowledge you said it and then move the topic of conversation to something more positive.

What if somebody asks you a question that makes you feel uncomfortable?

There are a couple of ways to handle uncomfortable questions. One is to be ready. If something unfortunate has happened in your life that you can anticipate people will ask about--losing your job, a divorce or a death in the family--be ready with some kind of response. Often it will suffice to
give a short answer, and then move off the subject.

For example, "Yes, that was unfortunate, but I've moved on. So what have you been up to lately?"

Pumping a Competitor for Business Intelligence is a No-No!

Some IT Pros can be tactless especially when it comes to asking their colleagues about business intelligence. For example, if you are attending IT conference and someone from another company or competing business asks you some BI questions about your company's new server or proprietary software you can say, "Sorry but I really can't discuss that with you. It's confidential." If the person persists by saying, "Come on, you can tell me," you can respond with, "No, I can't. Like I said, it's confidential."

Saying “No” is an important assertive action when dealing with taboo topics because certain information is no one else’s business. You can feel good about being polite, yet firm.

Awkward conversations pop up in many social and business situations for IT Pros. To show your ability to navigate business and social situations, avoid bringing up taboo topics, and when uncomfortable exchanges do occur, gracefully redirect them to more positive and appropriate topics.

For more information about having Don speak to your IT department, meet-up group or at your upcoming event please contact him at:

Don Gabor
Conversation Arts Media

1 comment:

Leil said...

Wow, saying "“I’m really sorry, that was a thoughtless thing to say, I apologize,” is FABULOUS advice. I wish I'd read this before a terrible faux pas I made just last week. I started stammering instead and still cringe when I think of it. Aargh.