When Others Are Absent


My wife and I recently entered into a fishing competition. A group of us entered the competition together.  We had two boats and five people: my wife and I, her father, our niece, and a neighbor.  We had two boats between us.

The first morning, my wife and I went in the boat with the neighbor. We didn’t know him, he didn’t know us. It was an eye opening morning, and it was NOT because of the fish! Instead, my wife and I were shocked to hear how this man spoke of his wife.  He continually complained about her, stating that he did all of the work and that “she doesn’t do anything”.

Certainly this man was out of line.  It reminded me of an important saying, “always speak well of people in their absence.” In other words, never speak negatively of someone behind their back.  Don’t gossip, don’t complain, only speak good things.  Speaking negatively of others when they are not present does not help anyone, it only causes hurt:

  • You don’t look any better.  By speaking negatively about others when they are not there, those that hear you will view you more negatively.
  • People will not trust you.  If you speak negatively about someone else, how do I know you won’t do the same to me?
  • The person you are speaking of doesn’t look better. The words you say will have an effect on the person you are speaking about.  Their reputation will take a hit.  People will believe what you say, even if they inwardly ridicule you for saying it.

If instead, you do the opposite and speak good of others in their absence many good things will happen:

  • You will look better.  People like to be around positive people and by speaking well of others you demonstrate your positive life outlook.
  • You will feel better.  It always feels better to lift up others.  You may be tempted to speak down about someone so that you look superior to them, but that is rarely the true effect.
  • People will trust you more.  These people will see how you speak highly of others, and believe that you may speak the same about them.
  • You elevate the standing of the other person.  Not only do people trust you and think more highly of you, but your words have now elevated the stature of another person.  You are making a difference in their life.
  • The other person will eventually hear about your kind words.  While I might not share negative comments made about someone, I’m more likely to share the positive comment, and even compliment the person in question about it.

In our fishing competition, the negative neighbor didn’t do any good to himself or his wife by speaking negatively about her.  A simple switch of attitude would have been helpful.  When others are absent, always speak well of them.

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4 Responses to “When Others Are Absent”

  1. Matt @ Face Your Fork says on :

    Agree / disagree. On one hand, I generally speak well of people anyways; on the other hand, if somebody seriously does me wrong, I’m not shy with stinging critiques of their behavior and actions. ;)

    I can’t not gossip, I can’t not complain, I can’t always speak of good things. For me, that’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. But I *am* fully conscious of what I say and how I say it, most of the time… which I think is a better ideal to live by. Conscious choice of actions > always going on default because it’s the norm.

  2. Ribeezie says on :

    A friend gave me a book as a gift once [someone had given it to him as a gift before. They said that when he finished reading it, he was supposed to gift it to someone else.] Anyway, the book was “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. In it, I read a lot of interesting and empowering things… But one quote in particular stuck out (I believe it was said by a former President; I’ve since given the book to someone else so I can’t reference it):

    “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good of everyone that I know.”

    I don’t speak ill of anyone whether they’re around or not! If I offer criticism (and I rarely do), it’s constructive criticism. You know what the greatest thing about it all is? I feel great!

  3. The Success Professor says on :

    @ Matt

    Do you give your stinging critiques to them in person, or when they are not there?

    I would argue that if you have a problem with someone, you should confront them personally, not behind their back.

  4. Sunday Browsing: Irrationally Committed, Success, and Surviving Troubled Times | The Success Professor says on :

    [...] How a fishing contest showed me lessons about how to act When Others are Absent [...]

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