You might want to reconsider what you say in the spur of the moment.
A new study by New York Times bestselling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield found five common career killing comments, and the top comment involves giving critical feedback. You might know how this usually works. You're in a meeting, and you decide to get really honest with the boss or a coworker. You lay it all out. Yet, you don't think about the fallout. No one asked for the feedback, and you look bad.
Of the 775 respondents in the survey, the highest number of people said the most career-killing comment had to do with giving honest, un-requested feedback.
The other four common killers include gossiping (21%), talking about taboo topics (20%), losing your temper and saying something profane or inappropriate (20%), and a "Reply All" blunder where you send a message to unintended recipients (10%).
When asked about a catastrophic statement, 31% said it resulted in losing a pay increase, the loss of a promotion, or an outright dismissal; 27% said the comment damaged or destroyed a business relationship; 11% said it destroyed their reputation.
"These unscripted and accidental behaviors and comments can have such a damaging effect on relationships," says author Joseph Grenny, who is the founder of the corporate training company VitalSmarts. "People assume what they just learned about you is more true than evidence they've assembled through long hours of more careful and scripted interaction. They assume they now understand more about your true character, motives, and abilities."
Grenny says it's incredibly important to address any off-hand remarks and apologize as quickly as possible because you need to cast doubt on what you said. He adds that it's also important to counteract your statements with actions that contradict what you said. Actions can sometimes make up for career-killing words.
According to Grenny, the reason off-hand comments said at the water cooler can be so damaging is that people will judge you based on what you say in a moment of weakness. We judge motives (e.g., will the comment cause hard) and competence (e.g., will the person do what they said). As humans, he says, we are constantly looking for ad-hoc comments that verify our assumptions. We believe that people speak the truth mostly in an off-the-cuff and unplanned way.
The best approach is to make sure you ask someone if they even want your feedback. With gossip, it's important to know that it's extremely rare for your comments said in private won't become public. And, talking about taboo subjects and losing your temper is never helpful. It can save your career.