Fools Rush In To Speak, And Their Reputations Suffer
Originally published: 04.01.11 by Terry Tanker
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” It’s timeless advice on how to build a good reputation, but it also speaks to how important well-executed communication is to every reputable leader and business.
Unfortunately, in our always-plugged-in society, business leaders, celebrities, and everyday people too often stick their foot so far in their mouth, it’s poking out of their rear.
The most striking recent example happened about a month after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in 2010, killing 1 workers and opening a trench that would eventually spill more than 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As the entire world watched to see how BP and its leaders would handle this escalating crisis, Tony Hayward, then CEO, made the infamous “I just want my life back” comment. He followed this up by attending a yachting event in Britain.
Brilliant move. Some think BP will never completely restore its reputation.
CEOs aren’t the only leaders guilty of foolish blabber. High-level employees who should know better do it, too. Yahoo! Sports recently interviewed Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, about the NFL labor dispute. Peterson compared playing in the NFL and the ongoing negotiations to slavery.
“It’s modern-day slavery, you know?” Peterson said. “People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money . . . the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money.”
Peterson’s ill-suited comparison is obviously inaccurate, in extreme poor taste, and downright juvenile. He responded like a puberty-plagued 13-year-old fighting for more allowance rather than a “professional” athlete enjoying one of the highest standards of living the world has to offer. Eventually, physical limitations will force his retreat from stardom, but Peterson’s fumbled communication will live in the digital world in perpetuity.
Speaking of being stuck in puberty, Charlie Sheen should be the next Clearasil spokesman. His boss Chuck Lorre accused him of having reckless sex and a drug problem. Sheen shot back that Lorre was a loser, a clown, and a contaminated little maggot. Too bad Sheen can’t be grounded so we don’t have to hear from him for a while.
These are just a few of the thousands of examples that happen every week. Most are followed up in a day or two with the obligatory apology — but the damage has been done.
The message for business owners is that technology (mobility, social media, new devices, etc.) has taken communication to a whole new level because everything said in public is now recordable, instantly conveyable, and endlessly repeatable. The wrong tweet or post about a job, customer, vendor, or employee can undo years and years of building goodwill.
Although you probably aren’t going to say something as dumb as the aforementioned fools, take away these important lessons:
• Before commenting, think about what you want to say and how you are going to clearly articulate it.
• Name calling and grandios, out-of-context analogies make you look ignorant. Don’t go for flash. Go for truthfulness and substance.
• Don’t negotiate or criticize in public. In the business world, these activities should take place behind closed doors and be limited to the parties directly involved.
• Think about what you are going to say from the perspective of those hearing it — employees, shareholders, suppliers, customers, etc. Will they be predisposed to infer something that you are not implying? If so, refine your message to be less ambiguous.
• Be brief. The more you talk, the greater the chance you’ll say something you regret. I’m not saying to be afraid. Be yourself. But say what you want to say clearly and then shut up. Better yet — shut up and listen.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube — these are all exciting, new marketing tools. They are also powerful, whether what you have to say is purposeful and positive, or ignorant and irrational. The only control you have is the message. Make it a good one. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.