Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995, after getting laid off from a job at Charles Schwab. He did it because he wanted to "give back," originally starting the site as an email digest of local events and notices to friends.

Craigslist now has at least 60 million users in the U.S. alone, and the site boasts 50 billion page views every month. Craigslist is the seventh-most-viewed website in the U.S., and Newmark is a billionaire.

But Newmark wasn't always the founder of a massively successful website and arguably global phenomenon. In fact, when he worked at IBM in the 1980s, he wasn't very well liked by some of his colleagues. When asked about what the best advice he ever got was, he remembered what his supervisor told him about the issue.

"I'm a nerd," Newmark wrote in a recent LinkedIn post. "[S]eriously hard-core, and sometimes that translates into being a know-it-all. People got tired of that ... My boss told me that that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers."

So what did his manager suggest?

"He said that my saving grace was my sense of humor. When trying to be funny, well, it didn't matter if I was funny or not, at least I wasn't being an a**hole. The advice was to focus on my sense of humor and worry less about being exactly right."

Then the crown jewel of the advice: "For sure, don't correct people when it matters little."

Don't correct people when it matters little.

When it matters a lot--when there's something on the line; when it's going to affect something important at the company; when a KPI will be missed because of a critical mistake--of course let someone know. But when it doesn't really matter, don't tell people what they're doing wrong.

Let them be.

Newmark took the advice. "It took a while to get noticed," he reported, "but it did get noticed, and some tension got less tense. That felt pretty good."

Being liked at work matters more than just creating a comfortable work environment. Harmonious teams produce more and cooperate more efficiently, which means a better bottom line. Plus, when colleagues get promoted, they can have more control over your life than before. And if you move on from that job, it helps to have friendly former co-workers who can tell you about other positions, or draw you into a new startup a few years later.

The truth is, people don't like to be told what they're doing wrong, especially if it doesn't actually impact a project, an email, or the flow of a meeting. Professionally speaking, knowing when to hold your tongue is just as important as knowing when to speak up.

Or in the words of our intrepid Craigslist founder's mentor: Don't correct people when it matters little.

Published on: Apr 10, 2019
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