01/09/2014 12:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017



Photo by Lakomanrus -- Licensed through Shutterstock

A colleague and friend of mine is a bright, caring and all-around lovely human being. She also has a habit of telling me the nasty things that some of our mutual friends say about me behind my back. My response to her is always the same: "If they don't have the courage to tell me to my face, I'm not interested in hearing about it."

Bad-mouthing -- who needs it? It's rude at best and unethical at worst, since it is an intentional, mean-spirited violation of the "Do No Harm" principle. Offering constructive criticism to a friend, family member, colleague, direct report or even your boss is one of the best ways to help them become better. Saying critical things about people behind their backs doesn't help anyone. Neither does reporting that unpleasant news to the person in question.

Job applicants who bad-mouth former employers do themselves no favors. As my boss used to tell me, "Why take potshots at people if you don't have to?"

If you're interviewing someone for a position in your organization, and you want to hire only people of high character, you would do well to take bad-mouthing seriously.

There is a concept that gets much less attention, but is sorely needed today: good-mouthing. I didn't invent the term, but I'd like to popularize it, so I can think of no better place to start than right here. With you.

How often does someone tell you, "I've been hearing great things about the work you're doing"? How often do you tell someone this? Why is good-mouthing so rare? (I'm using the term to refer both to the good things that people say behind your back as well as what you do by relaying good news to someone else).

I hereby offer a gentle challenge: For the next seven days, tell one person each day about the good things others are saying about them.

Be specific. Tell them who said these nice things, what the nice things were, and how they were beneficial.

If you don't have good news to pass along, you could always praise the person directly. What a radical idea! (A tip o' the hat to my fellow Swarthmore College grad Martha Kurtz Hogan for pointing this out).

It's flu season and the flu is contagious. So is bad-mouthing. Isn't it time to make good-mouthing a part of our daily lives? It takes almost no effort, but the dividends it yields are immense.

Was I bad-mouthing my colleague by telling you about her habit of revealing who is saying unkind things about me behind my back? Maybe. I think I'll give her a call and, like Chaka Khan sings, tell her something good.

Thank you for reading this blog. May 2014 be the best year yet!

Your humble correspondent,

Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
The Ethics Guy

P.S. I have a new brochure for my keynote speeches, half/full-day workshops, and webinars on ethics and leadership. If you'd like one, please send an e-mail to bruce[at]