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A recent conversation got me thinking about how some people’s feedback process is like being stoned. Stoned you may ask? As in having rocks thrown at you? As in the way they used to kill people?

Yes, that is what I mean.

There are lots of references to stoning throughout history. It is a practice that has been mentioned in religious texts and historical documents, and is still practiced today in some countries. When someone is stoned, people surround them and throw rocks at the victim repeatedly until they either 1.) are too hurt to continue moving, or 2.) die from their injuries.

By now, you probably have an image of men and women dressed in suits chucking rocks at some poor, unsuspecting individual cowering in the corner. Please refrain from using this technique as your next form of office feedback. We don’t want anyone to be injured, hurt, bruised, or worse.

So where does this analogy come into play?

Sometimes, when upper-level managers or peers give feedback, they are giving the equivalent of a mental stoning. Instead of being tactful, constructive, and guiding in their comments, they are instead rude, harsh, brash, and destructive. Rather than acting as a mentor or coach, they act as human attack dogs.

These comments, while destructive when said to an individual’s face, can be even more harmful when said behind the person’s back. For example, “Ben” says, “Greg is so clumsy and slow, he doesn’t understand anything I say, and he never makes any sense when he talks,” to a few coworkers. The office rumor mill begins to run, and before long Greg is either drunk at work, on a controlled substance, or has a developmental issue. Upper level management hears these rumors, and Greg’s reputation is ruined by the rumors that are untrue.

What Greg needed was someone to help him work on his communication skills and his listening skills. He needed someone to coach him about how to ask the right questions and give the right answers. Maybe his clumsiness was a trait that cannot be fixed by executive coaching, or maybe it was just the result of nervousness (which can be fixed). His behaviors, which were observed by “Ben,” could have been coached and changed if there had been some sort of positive feedback system in place. Instead, Greg never earns the respect of his coworkers, becomes apathetic, and performs at sub-par levels. His drive and motivation “dies” because of the wounds inflicted by the sharp tongues of his gossiping coworkers.

This is an extreme situation, but it is not all that far-fetched. How many people do you know that talk about coworkers behind their backs? How many people have hurt feelings after group meetings when their ideas are discredited, made fun of, or dismissed without thought?

Next time you are in a position where you feel like gossiping to coworkers, remember a famous quote that might change your mind about harmful “stone throwing” gossip:

“Let he among you who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

Remember your faults before ripping apart someone else’s.

It’s something to think about.