Sadly, “trash talk” is an inevitable part of life for far too many people. Especially in business, some people always seem to have something negative to say about their competition, their co-workers or their clients. Regardless of how much trash people talk, it never has a positive outcome. It destroys trust and often comes back to haunt you.

Why do people talk trash? They might feel inferior, they might have had an important mentor somewhere along the way who chose to trash his competition, or they might believe that trash talking is an appropriate way to advance their career.

But it isn’t appropriate, especially in business situations. You must avoid trash talk, because in the end, you’ll regret it. Whoever hears you talking negatively — your customers, prospects, co-workers, employees, etc. — will feel as if they can’t trust you. They won’t respect you, and they won’t see you in a professional light. Worse, you won’t be able to respect yourself.

So what can you do to stop the talk and to prevent yourself from joining? Consider the following situations:

Someone wants to gossip
As part of the human condition, people periodically have negative thoughts and feelings about other people, such as their boss or their competitor. But you can, if you choose, rise above these negative thoughts. When you let a negative comment slip out of your mouth, think about the message you just sent out…is that the way you want to be perceived? Make a conscious commitment to diminish this type of behavior.

You can also avoid talking negatively by removing yourself from gossip groups. You know who these people are; they always have some kind of dirt on someone else. It is their mindset. When you associate with these people, they will only try to get you involved.

Before you get sucked in to their trash-talking session, change the subject. Use a non sequitur. You can say, “The weather is so nice today, don’t you agree?” Or, “You know what happened to me in the grocery store last night?” Now the conversation has a new direction.

Three kinds of minds exist in this world: small minds just talk about people; medium minds talk about things; but the great minds talk about ideas. When someone wants to lead you down the trash-talking road, change the subject to something completely neutral. Then you won’t say anything you might regret later.

You hear trash talk
Unless you sequester yourself from other people, you’ll hear negative conversation. Part of building your reputation for positive talk means stopping trash talk when you hear it taking place. If you hear a person talking negatively about a friend or team member of yours, you can easily stop it by approaching the trash talker. Say something like, “You know, she’s my friend and I would rather you didn’t talk about her like that.” This will stop the conversation and make these people think twice about talking trash in the future, and they will respect you for doing the right thing.

However, not all trash talk is so blatant. Some people say negative things in a sneaky way where you can’t always tell if they are talking trash. These people are so competitive, they want the limelight so badly, that they can’t contain themselves, and they let little deadly comments drop here and there. These people can’t be stopped; they are going to let their negative comments slip, and all you can do is prepare yourself for it and leave.

You’re tempted to trash talk
When someone rubs you the wrong way and you feel as if you’ll have a heart attack if you don’t vent, negative talk is almost always inevitable. In a business setting, if you have the responsibility to provide your input on a decision, you should be timely and candid about your feelings. If you need to discuss whether to continue using a vendor or whether to keep an employee, negative comments might be appropriate. But you need to use the right language. Character assassination is unnecessary; there’s a difference between citing flaws and being snide.

Speak in a business sense. Explain what the person does that is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Timely, candid comments about how you feel about what should be done in an individual case are completely appropriate.

However, if you’re at a conference table or in a similar setting and another member of your team is making you angry for some reason, then firing back negative bullets is not appropriate. Bite your tongue and remove yourself from the situation. You can go outside and scream, jump up and down, or whatever else it takes to release your negative feelings. Get it out of your system.

If you absolutely must express your feelings to another person, make sure you choose someone you can really confide in. Don’t release your negative feelings about a person in a counter- productive way that could end up hurting you. And always be careful of what you say to whom. If you talk trash on one of your team members to another team member, somewhere down the road, the person you confided in might betray your trust.

Stop your trash talking for good
In business, you win by taking the high road, you win with skills, you win with ethical actions, and you win by solving your clients’ problems. You don’t win by trash talking your competition. The only thing you get from negative talk is a bad reputation and a loss of respect. So commit yourself to eliminating any trash talk, and take pride in talking positively about other people.

Use these strategies to overcome other people’s negative talk and your own temptations to slip occasionally. When you do, you will build character and a reputation that will take your career to the next level of success.

Jack Perry is a renowned leader, coach, and author with over 40 years of experience. “Jack, You’re Fired,” is his recently released book on effective sales, goals and motivation techniques. Jack climbed to the top with a district sales management position at IBM, then became CEO at a national financial services firm. Now he is a senior vice president for a division of John Hancock. Perry is an expert on sales, motivation, leadership and retirement planning. For more information on his training and speaking, visit his Web site.