There’s a Fine Art to Keeping Your Mouth Shut at Work

One of my core principles of office politics is this: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.

Cheesy as that may be (yes, I know you’re humming that country song in your head as we speak!), it’s broadly applicable in so many situations at work.

  • Does the path you’re headed down lead you to a “win?” Then what the heck are you doing!
  • Sitting in a meeting and it’s clear the decision isn’t going to go your way? Look for a compromise right quick, but don’t fall on your sword to fight a losing battle.
  • Know you have the key votes on your side, even if your co-worker is running their mouth to the contrary? Just go along with it – no need to rock the boat if you have a win in sight.
  • Not inclined to play the politics game at work? Maybe it’s time to pursue greener pastures elsewhere. If you say, you’ll likely end up pretty miserable.

Keeping quiet takes skill to master

A lot of those scenarios are dependent on developing one key skill: The fine art of keeping your mouth shut.

Have you ever noticed that those who are the highest rank in the room usually say the least? That’s because, over the course of becoming the highest rank in the room, they’ve learned when to speak up and when to keep quiet. The earlier you can learn this in your career, the better off you will be.

Be warned: This is a difficult skill to master! I’ve taught it for years now and I still struggle with it.

If I’m in a bad mood, or someone has really done something to make me mad, it takes all of the energy I have in the world to keep my mouth shut … and I’m not always successful. But at the end of the day, you have to own your own behavior.

You can think anything you want about the people you work with, but that doesn’t mean you are obligated to behave negatively towards them.

When to keep your mouth shut

It goes like this:

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  • Do you know you’ve won a battle at work, even if others don’t know yet? Keep your mouth shut – there’s no reason to brag or be the deliverer of that news.
  • Can you see, based on the decision makers involved, that something isn’t going to go your way? Keep your mouth shut – fighting won’t win you any gold stars, and will probably just send the wrong message about your willingness to be a team player.
  • Do you hate your boss? Keep your mouth shut – gossip always gets back.
  • Has your co-worker done something stupid that doesn’t impact you or your goals, but you feel the need to comment on it anyway? Keep your mouth shut – it’s none of your business.
  • Don’t have something nice to say? Well, you know the rule!
  • And so on, and so forth.

What if you’re directly asked your opinion in front of a group of people and you have no choice but to give it?

When in doubt, well …

You have to think about the larger context. Count your votes – if you’re not going to win, don’t take a moral victory by voicing a descending opinion. Just say you’re fine with what the team thinks, or something to that effect. You haven’t gained anything, but you haven’t lost anything either.

So, when in doubt, keep your mouth shut. When you don’t say anything, you (usually) can’t get into hot water for it.

This was originally published on Zen Workplace.

Karlyn Borysenko is the Owner and Principal of Zen Workplace , a consultancy dedicated to fixing the “people problems” to help individuals achieve professional happiness and success, and organizations to drive productivity and results. She’s an MBA, is a dissertation away from completing her PhD in Organizational Psychology, and is a certified DiSC trainer. You can connect with Karlyn on Twitter at @KarlynMB.

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