The Coercion of Whispered Thoughts

Most people talk to themselves. Just little stuff like “I wonder what the temperature is” and “what should I have for lunch?” Everybody thinks to themselves. Thinking is good, mostly. Positive thoughts are better than negative thoughts, certainly for us but even at times for those around us. 

Negative thoughts can be very damaging to our morale and motivation. But kept to ourselves they mostly just affect us. 

But what happens when when we don’t just keep them to ourselves? What happens when we begin to share?

Negative thoughts are seldom widely broadcast, they are most commonly whispered. They are whispered in those quiet “hallway conversations” between you and a colleague. They are whispered behind someone’s back, not meant for them to ever hear even though they often eventually do.

Whispered thoughts are rarely positive or constructive which is why conversations containing whispered thoughts stop suddenly when a boss or talked about co-worker appears. That’s one of the most coercive things about whispered thoughts, we rarely share them with someone who can help us with them. We share them with the people we believe will agree with them. We share them with people who will buy into them and make them their own.

Our negative thoughts can slow us down and limit our potential but make no mistake, saying them out loud brings them to life, no matter how quietly they are spoken. Once they are spoken it’s impossible to unsay them. They are now more than thoughts, they are productivity and morale killers and they don’t just kill your morale, they can kill the morale of whoever you shared them with AND whoever they share them with. 

Whispered thoughts said even once can destroy in an instant a reputation that took years to build. They can cause a person to doubt themselves or their circumstances. Whispered thoughts can last a lifetime no matter how hard we try to shout them down.

It’s odd but the words we whisper in confidence carry so much more weight than the words we share in public. People tend to believe a whisper more than words said out loud for everyone to hear.

Your thoughts become your actions. Your actions determine the course of your life. The course of your life determines your legacy. That’s big stuff and it gets even bigger when you whisper your negative thoughts to others and begin affecting their thoughts and actions. 

Make certain your whispered thoughts add value. Make certain they build and don’t destroy. Make certain your whispered thoughts cause a smile and not a look of concern. Your whispered thoughts are contagious, be sure what you’re infecting people with is good for them, and good for you.

Remember, if it’s not fit for everyone to hear then maybe, just maybe it’s not fit to be said at all.

17 thoughts on “The Coercion of Whispered Thoughts

  1. ADULTS need to learn to speak directly to the people they have a problem with instead of everyone else EXCEPT the person they have a problem with. Far too many LEADERS do this as well.

    Dial Direct. And when people bother to ask what’s wrong? Why is kept a secret? Why do people resort to threats and power plays instead?

    That’s not leadership.

    I make EVERY effort to dial direct with people. I expect adults AND leaders to be able to do the same with me any time there is a problem or a concern.

    We’re not in Junior High or High school anymore.

    Thanks for sharing.

      • Stemming from a recent incident that happened….TODAY actually! So the dust hasn’t quite settled yet! (grins)

        As for what I shared, Steve, we’ve been Twitter tweeps for going on 2 years now? Even though I haven’t sent a DM in EONS…I KNOW that you are perfectly aware of my ability to send a DM any time I’ve had a question or asked for advice or more info (like a LONG time ago when YOU were the one I DM’d in order to find what #FF meant! haha) You know 1st hand I’m not one that is ‘afraid’ about communicating directly with people. Not at all!

        Now of course, that doesn’t mean direct comms always go smoothly. There’s always room for improvement on that score. Yet I have learned to do what it take to be WILLING to ‘deal’ with things directly when necessary.

        Thanks my friend. And thanks for letting me ‘rant’ a bit…. : )

      • I’d rather have a few “bumps” from a direct but difficult communication than the never ending drama and stress that comes from backwards, sideways and whispered communication. Direct always is the best way to go.

      • 100% SOOO with you on it. Let’s DEAL with it. Get it out in the open. Get it addressed and dealt with as quickly as humanly possible so everyone isn’t left HANGING. That is the BIGGEST emotional energy drain. Direct is what has the capacity to plug those energy drain wholes ASAP.

        Restores vital life force energy that can be channeled to other critical life areas.

        Thanks again for the topic Steve.

    • Jaconda Wagner says:

      Yes. I agree completely; however, not everyone approaches conflict resolution in this way. For example, in one company for which I worked, I was written up for being “direct.” What I have learned is that information flow is a form of power and control. Similarly, speech and silence is a form of power and control. Consider the adage from many of our childhoods that “Children are to be seen and not heard.” In essence, when people talk about you behind your back, whispering and creating conflict, they are relegating you to childhood.

  2. wbenoist says:

    Great post, Steve.

    This is a good reminder of the Socrates triple filter test. If what we have to say is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why say it at all?

    • I’m going to try to ask myself that very question before I say anything for a while, I’ll be interested in how long it takes the first person to notice and say “you’re awfully quiet, everything ok?” 🙂

  3. While I don’t disagree with the general sentiment of this missive, there’s a significant counterpoint that I believe is missing:

    Whispered thoughts are often petty, negative and damaging, and ought not to be spoken. At other times however, they’re whispered not because one’s embarrassed to speak them out loud, but rather because they need to be said, but would invoke unjust retribution on the speaker, if the wrong people heard.

    All too often, institutional cultures that punish anything other than groupspeak affirmation of the leadership’s position, generate negative, destructive whispers, not because the whisperers wish to be negative or destructive, but because something /has/ to change, and the only safe way to pursue that change is via the safety in numbers that can only be rallied via whispers.

    So – from a leadership perspective – consider why your employees are whispering. Is it because they’ve too much time on their hands and can engage in idle gossip and pettiness, or, is it because you’ve created a situation where they’re afraid that you’ll punish them, if you overheard their dissatisfactions? In today’s ultra-competitive market, I’m seeing a lot more of the latter, than the former…

    • “A safe way to pursue change?” “Safety in numbers rallied via numbers” indeed indicate a serious leadership challenge. However I’d be very surprised to hear a whispered conversation that included “gee, let’s do something good here and change this for the better.” The mere fact that anything needs to be whispered for “safety” nearly eliminates the chance for true change.

      You’re correct that it’s a leadership issue but sadly the leadership and or the culture must change to allow thoughts to be spoken openly before any other effective change can take place. If people are afraid to speak their mind they will likely be too afraid to take the action and risk required to improve or change anything.

      • Mine are academic institutions, so perhaps the dynamics are peculiar to this type of setting, however, if such conversations would surprise you, you’d be surprised quite a lot in the halls where I walk.

        Across multiple organizations, practically daily, I see see and overhear numerous whispered conversations where fundamentally, the participants want to help, want to be a positive influence, and are hoping to effect positive change. You’re right, most of them are too timid to take action when opportunities present themselves, but, they’re not trying to be destructive, or to subvert the good of the organizations. They’re trying to find the willpower to stand up and make a change. I agree that a culture shift that supports positive, non-whispered conversation is necessary to make significant strides forward, but that culture change has to start somewhere. People that I talk to, are hoping that whispers eventually become shouts, and push that change forward.

      • I just find it illogical to withhold ideas for improvement and intentional or not, the failure to openly share ideas for improvement DOES subvert the good of the organizations.

        Hope has never been found to be a sound strategy for success and “hoping” that whispers become shouts is certainly the long way to improvement. It only takes one person to start a revolution – shout it out from the rooftops!

  4. Soapbox0916 says:

    Easier said than done sometimes to have a direct conversation. I would have agreed with all of this prior to the previous administration that I worked for.

    I love my job helping the homeless agencies so much and because I cared so much for my clients that I had to stick it out through a toxic administration for almost a couple of years. I knew that if I would have left, no one would have stuck up for the homeless. However, the toxic environment did wear me down and being continuously ignored by the higher-ups, myself and co-workers wound up having a lot of negative conversations “behind their backs”. There was nothing that I said that I wouldn’t have been willing to say to their faces, but it was still negative. That said, I tried and then tried some more and then even further tried to have direct conversations with my higher-ups. They were not interested. Finally, I had to resort to working around them and doing damage control to keep programs in existence long enough to outlast them, because they were already scheduled to leave with the new upcoming political administration.

    What I found with myself, was that it was so gradual, that I did not realize how negative I sounded, until it was past a point that I wish I could take back. I am naturally a laid back easy going person, I tend to like almost everybody I meet. I honestly did not even know I was capable of such negativity. Plus, because of the toxic environment overall, pretty much everyone slid further and further into negativity.

    So my further advice, is that if you find out you have some employees that are talking negatively behind your back, ask yourself just how open you are yourself to having those direct honest conversations. If you don’t allow honest conversations up front, then employees may feel that they have no choice, but to talk behind your back.

    • This is a great addition to the post. You’re correct on both counts. Very very often the negative whispers stem from poor leadership. Rumors come from a lack of communication and information. When people don’t trust their leadership enough to speak directly with them they resort to whispering.

      That said, poor leadership is no excuse for surrendering your positive attitude. It’s a choice we make and unfortunately as you say, the negativity becomes habit forming before we even know it’s happening. We still see ourselves as positive people but no one else does. I’ve been there and done that. Fortunately I had a boss who was not afraid of direct communication and pointed out how my attitude had gone down hill. I made the decision the reverse course and try harder to control my thoughts.

      It’s hard but keeping the goal in mind it can be done. It’s sounds like you kept the people who needed help as your focus and that is likely what allowed you to get through the poor leadership.

      Thanks for making this a better post with your spot on comment!

  5. I love this subject matter and thanks for sharing it in an adult manner! The coercion of whispered thoughts, when shared out loud with people who take that thought as a reality and share it even further can indeed create massive damage….. is it not akin to untamed gossip…… and bad gossip can be destructive as we have recently found out….. thanks for sharing this, although I suspect the very people that NEED to read it probably never will.

    • Thanks for your comment and kind words. I’m excited to share that a person I know told me last night that they “saw themselves” in the post (not my intention) and that they would work on improving both their thoughts and how they express them. That it helped one person made this post worth writing!

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