October 17, 2013
GENEVA — Rumors are like viruses: They spread fast and can affect anyone.
Should managers track toxic employees and punish the malicious tongues that lash among their team? According to French essay writer Laurence Bourgeois, the answer is No.
Grumbling, bad-mouthing and spreading rumors — true and otherwise — can produce unexpected collective benefits, argues Bourgeois, author of the new book Praising Criticism and Power Games in a Company (in French, Eloge de la Critique et des Jeux de Pouvoir en Entreprise) asserts that gossip not only is useful for the office whisperers themselves, but that it also improves a company’s overall efficiency.
Bourgeois, a French expert in human resources and management, even encourages bosses to indulge in the pleasures of the most perverse psychological games, an approach that has startled conflict specialists.
A eight-step tour of the topic seems necessary. Bourgeois bases her observations on her 20-year-long field experience, having consulted on many staff reorganizations of both multinational companies and small businesses. “In these situations, co-workers are left to themselves for a long period of time,” she says. “In such moments, the human risk is so big that they have to re-create social relationships that they’ve lost. They can do that through gossiping.”
The author believes this type of “non-standard” behavior can replace what the company is no longer in a position to provide. Bad-mouthing one’s colleagues can, in other words, represent a powerful tool of professional cohesion.
1. Rumor-mongoring is a sign of participation
“Bad-mouthers are committed and show great motivation in their work,” Bourgeois says. “They put as much heart and effort into it as into their obnoxious remarks and tasteless jokes.” That being said, they also spend a lot of time at the coffee machine. “These non-working moments are also productive for the community,” she insists.
2. Bootlickers are the worst employees
Unlike flawless employees, bad-mouthers break out of the mold and innovate by coloring outside the existing lines. “Bootlickers, who never doubt anything or confide to anybody, have the most negative impact,” the author says. “They get involved in absolutely nothing, which shows a certain disinterest for their company life.” As for those who are usually labeled ‘negative’, they reinforce the social bond and the feeling of belonging to a group by shaping a team spirit.”
3. Critical people are more intelligent
Bourgeois says troublemakers have one thing in common: sharp analytical capacities. “They are mostly clever and subtle, gifted with a faculty of keen observation and capable of rapidly detecting other people’s flaws,” she says. These crafty individuals may also be gifted with particular emotional intelligence — the “inner child,” which, in a natural and intuitive way, is inventive and manipulative, according to the author. “It’s a shame that this skill is never taken into account, neither in performance reviews nor in identifying potential.”
4. An unconventional manager leads well
Stepping out of one’s executive role to question existing procedures, even if it means bad-mouthing someone, is not always a bad thing. “Negative assessments are well and truly a constructive component of a critical mind in the broad sense,” Bourgeois says.
5. Unpleasant words can lead to good performance
Feedback, whether positive or negative, often contributes to improved employee performance. “Even when it seems unjustified,” the author insists. Re-assessment involves listening first. But be careful with more fragile people, which the author describes as “empathic sponges.” For them, being the subject of a rumor represents more of a professional obstacle than a motor for progress.
6. Leave no paper trail
“It is only fair to keep records of ambiguous emails,” the author explains. “Namely those that display excessive punctuation such as unnecessary exclamation marks or heavy-handed ellipses.” These messages are likely, one day, to be used against their author.
7. Be direct
If you bump into your boss in the elevator or a colleague in the hall, give them a large formal smile. But to tease them — about their salary, their physique or their clothing — once their back is turned can also be healthy. “It is better to interact face to face, to have a direct dialogue,” Bourgeois says. “But very few people dare to be truly honest. Hypocrisy therefore appears to be a lesser evil.” And what if remarks about co-workers derive from misinformation? “It’s just like in a playground. It has no importance whatsoever, even if the expressed remark involves a value judgment. What counts is the cathartic mechanism, which allows a reduction of stress and tensions, as well as the improvement of team coordination.”
8. There are limits
Downsides are always possible. “If it is OK to allow a certain level of bad-mouthing, too much gossip can cancel its benefits,” warns Bourgeois. The manager should learn to play the role of referee and moderate disputes if need be so situations don’t become unhealthy. “There should never be any scapegoats.”
Bourgeois’ book has sparked mixed reactions. “The most stupid text I’ve ever read,” one blogger wrote. Another wrote: “Completely feckless. Confusion between gratuitous criticism and having an analytical mind. Companies need employees who are capable of the former as opposed to the latter. This book is essentially an apologia for coffee machine gossip.” wrote another.
But Bourgeois also has admirers. “I agree with several of this book’s arguments,” one wrote. “Companies must, however, make sure that these power games do not affect the performance of other employees.”
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Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
October 22, 2021
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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