You’ve probably been pairing since you made that first friend in your office.

Maybe you think of it more kindly as “ranting” or just talking with that pal who “dislikes the same people you do.” If you’re being honest, you know in your heart that you get together to talk badly about someone else and the things being said are for present ears only. That’s a behavior known as “pairing.”  

No, you’re not a bad person for it. You’re just a person. 

Webfoot learned about pairing from an honest training session with Eric Coryell, the founder of Core Connections. Eric works to equip organizations with strategies to prosper through building more accountable teams. We welcomed Eric to walk us through the difficult conversations essential to having the best team possible here at Webfoot. And what was his number one challenge to us? 

Make a commitment to never pair. 

Pairing feels good at the time, but not great later.

Eric defines pairing as “the single-most destructive behavior to teams.” That’s because despite feeling incredibly bonded with the one person you just “ranted” to, pairing breaks down trust within the team as a whole. You feel confident that you and your pairing partner both dislike another person’s behaviors, but you become insecure about what’s been said about you behind your own back. Luckily, there’s tips and tricks to stop yourself from pairing once and forever. Check out the following lists to identify when you’re pairing, and to stop the conversation in its tracks.

‘Am I pairing right now?’

Are you:

  • Using the name of someone who isn’t present
  • Speaking negatively about someone in a way you wouldn’t want them to hear
  • Sharing your conflict with the hope of validation, not resolution

‘We’re pairing. How can I stop this conversation?’

You can:

  • Suggest pausing the conversation and inviting the excluded, but named person by saying, “I can’t really speak negatively about someone unless that person is in the room.”
  • Stop talking and say, “Hey, I really don’t want to be indulging in validating my feelings through pairing. I’d like to stop this conversation and go address the issue one-on-one.” 
  • Talk with your habitual pairing partner ahead of time and let them know what you’ve learned about pairing and that you’d like to connect differently from now on

How can you address issues without pairing?

Eric suggests that the key to building trust in your teams is through developing a habit of one-on-one confrontation. Instead of telling your coworker about your issue with another coworker, try going to the person directly. A key to expressing yourself is using “I feel” statements, such as “I feel___ when you___.” For example, try saying “I feel disappointed when you don’t meet my deadlines.” (Bonus: This is 100% more likely to help your deadlines get met than telling someone else how that one coworker never sends you things on time.)

Eric declared that you never need to pair. But, that doesn’t mean you never feel like you’ve got something to pair about. Luckily, every “rant” can be an open and direct conversation instead. Maybe start your one-on-one confrontation with “I feel like ranting when you…” and see where that leads.