Social Enterprise optimize

10 ways to destroy your reputation

If you aren't careful about protecting your reputation, you may find yourself doing damage control for the rest of your career.

Each of us has a reputation that follows us from place to place. That reputation may be good or it may be bad. I hope yours is good and I'm assuming that you want to keep it that way. After all, a bad reputation may affect you more than a good one. Perhaps you're on the hunt for a new job. That bad reputation may make it much harder to find your next gig. In today's hyper-connected world, even the smallest public misstep can spell the end of a once-great reputation. Fortunately, you generally control your own destiny in this regard. Here are some things you should definitely NOT do if you want to retain your positive image.

1: Don't choose your battles

Like it or not, in the workplace there is always conflict. Some battles were meant to be fought and some weren't. I've seen people shy away from facing any workplace challenges and I've seen people rise up to battle anything and everything that comes their way. Neither extreme is good for your career. It's important to understand which battles are worth waging and which ones aren't. If you fail in choosing your battles, don't be surprised if your reputation takes a hit. Too timid and you'll be seen as a pushover; too aggressive and you'll be seen as a troublemaker.

2: Misuse social media

You already know this, but it bears repeating: Social media follows you forever. If you're not careful, what you say can and probably will be used against you at some point. If you get on Facebook and complain about what a jerk your boss is, don't be surprised if people reading such comments lose their confidence in your ability to use sound judgment on the job.

Unfortunately, social networking lends itself to serious oversharing, especially on Facebook, although Twitter is a close second in some ways. I love Twitter, but I cringe at some of the comments I see. Frankly, I'm surprised that more people aren't fired for their comments. I even stay (mostly) away from politics and religion on Twitter.

3: Commit a crime

If you commit a crime that is serious enough, you can kiss your reputation goodbye. At the very least, you will have to work really hard to reestablish your credibility. But depending on the crime, you could find your career seriously derailed, with people's trust eroded.

4: Be proven to be a hypocrite

Gary Pinkel, head coach for the University of Missouri's football team, recently pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated. As a result, the university suspended him for a week and he stands to lose more than $300,000 in bonus dollars. Over the years, he has counseled his players on the dangers of drinking and driving. He may have been talking the talk but he certainly wasn't walking the walk. It's going to take him a long time to regain his credibility in these kinds of matters. To his credit, he didn't try to make excuses. He owned his error and pled guilty to the charges against him.

5: Lie

Lies will catch up with you. A lie might be small or it might be something big, such as lying to cover up a mistake. If you've blown it, own it and move on. If you lie, people will remember, and your reputation will probably not recover, at least at your current employer.

6: Listen little, talk much

No one likes a know-it-all. Regardless of your position, listening to those around you is a key skill to hone. As you listen -- and I mean really listen, not just look like you're listening -- people will notice. Their confidence in you will increase, as will your reputation. If you talk too much, people will tune you out, particularly if what you're saying doesn't help them.

I've seen this in action: I've watched a guy talk until he was blue in the face. He knew facts but didn't understand how to put them into context. He rarely listened to other people and it showed when he opened his mouth. The result: He got a reputation as a know-it-all who couldn't understand others' points of view.

7: Fail to take responsibility

Believe it or not, I've made some mistakes in my career. Nothing is worse than having to fess up to someone that I've blown it. But it would be worse if I tried to cover it up. If I've truly blown it, I will be the first to stand up and accept responsibility and clean it up. Of course, if I haven't blown it and someone is just looking for a scapegoat, I'll fight until I drop dead. But I believe in accepting responsibility when it's necessary and I believe that your reputation is linked to the willingness to do so in appropriate circumstances.

8: Change your stance... all the time

If your opinion changes depending on who is in the room, you're probably not all that trustworthy. This is something else I've seen in action, and I continue to be amazed when people eat it up! Do you have one opinion when executives are in the room and an opposite opinion when they're not there? If so, you're not being transparent; people do see it and they will believe that you're a suck-up. That's not a good reputation.

Now, you may frame your opinion differently depending on who is in the room. But that's just tailoring your message to your audience, which is fine as long as the substance is still there.

9: Get drunk

This one is easy: It's a judgment issue. Think it's okay to get drunk at a company-sponsored event? If so, your judgment is in serious error. If you do get drunk like this, it's going to damage your reputation and you will be the talk of the office, especially if you end up doing something truly stupid.

10: Be constantly difficult to work with

Are you a jerk at the office just because you're allowed to get away with it? This is another behavior I've seen: An aggressive, power hungry, small-minded person is not reined in when necessary and continues to harass people, raise objections just for fun, and badger people rather than work with them. These people take pride in tearing other people down in an effort to build themselves up. Having a reputation for being difficult to work with is extremely hard to shake. Even if you begin to realize that you might be this person, your attempts at change will be viewed with suspicion as those around you wonder what you're after. So at least make an attempt to treat your coworkers with respect, listen to their opinions, and act like a member of the work team.

Additional reading

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

29 comments
Dylan Teo
Dylan Teo

I believe is Choose your battles. The content is to carefully choose which battle to fight which to let go.

boucaria
boucaria

Seems like this is a guide to surviving a low level job. You can do the best job possible, and if the managers don't like your tone, or if you "contradict" them, then you are persona non grata. Try discussing anything with some people, and the small minds will say "lets not go there", and if it gets back to managers, the response is usually "don't ask so many questions" ( even if the other people start the chat) or basically, don't talk.And, if you don't like the local parlance, then don't dare use your own version of english, even if their expressions have some bent twist in your own version of english. Most of this guide is a survival paper for people who are surrounded by small minded people who really don't want to see your perspective, but definitely want you to see their perspective. Adds a dash of spice if your supervisor is a mentally deranged individual.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Aside from the point of social media, it is not very likely your reputation will extend beyond your current job position. Obviously criminal actvity can also extend beyond that, but in this age of litigation, most former employers will only acknowledge dates of employment. It's also not likely someone is going to use personal/professional references that are going to share anything other than a glowing reputation. In a way, social media is more of an unbiased view. It is also a topic of debate, whether companies should be allowed to harvest information from it about both current and potential employees/contractors. Integrity was mentioned, and I believe it will show through both good and bad reputations.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

The key is knowing when to shut up and listen to the other person instead of trying to beat them into submission to your point of view. The best way is to reflectively listen to the other person until you understand exactly what they are saying. Then get them to explain why they hold that point of view. Once you understand their foundations, you can work on changing them one part at a time. Of course there is the "danger" you might find that your own position is the one that needs to change.

hansbaas
hansbaas

Maybe I'm a bit too European here, but the list is very politically correct... Don't discuss politics or religion? Don't get drunk? Stop kidding yourselves - nothing will establish a strong reputation as much as getting drunk the night before (without doing massive damage that is) and yet performing a great job! And if you like bland people (in certain bigger companies they do tend to get promoted more easily), then don't express yourself on possibly polemic issues, but the basics of your reputation lay in your performance, capacities and behaviour, not in your opinion, gossip and/or hearsay. Be strong, be yourself.

zloeber
zloeber

One good way to destroy your reputation is to act without integrity. A reputation can be good or bad, integrity is the difference between two.

bdlasco
bdlasco

what is somehow innate in a person will subsequently result in some of the items showing up ! I think what is inside our hearts and minds will eventually show and become a public knowledge - cant fake it !

biancaluna
biancaluna

Reputation is in other people's head, it is something they give you and you have no control over that, I learnt that a long time ago. Chasing good reputation is a waste of time. What you are listing in your article is about integrity, you mix behaviors with character. Character are the things you do or do not do when nobody is watching you. There is a distinct difference that I think we need to keep in mind. Some of the items in your list are about leadership and integrity. Conviction in adversity. Professional behavior, respect and trust. Those are elements we have control over. But we have no control over what other people think of us, talk about, gossip about or project on us because the majority of reputation is based on who they are, not what we do or don't do. Remember also that there are cultural differences. Several years ago I worked in an organisation where I had to do a health check on a project and then put it back on the rails. This came with a level of conflict between myself and some of the client's resources who felt very threatened by my presence. When the project was delivered, there were very different views from people in the same team. Some thought I was a bitch on wheels even though I had no "battles" with them and limited contact, but others thought the sun shone out of my backside even though we had fierce and healthy debates. My behavior was the same for both sides of the observers, so it was up to their frame of reference to decide wether I was friend or foe. I agree with paulfx1 - the title of the topic is misleading. Because even if you do all of the items in the list right or rightish, your reputation can still be mush. Particularly if you are a woman or if you operate in different countries. And remember - people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Professor8
Professor8

"Don???t choose your battles" I've always liked Thomas Jefferson's comment to the effect that one should stand firm on matters of principle but be extremely flexible on matters of taste. De gustibus non disputandem. What's most difficult to always keep in mind is that every individual has different incentives. What appears to be a totally insane decision based on the mutually accepted facts usually turns out to be a difference in the incentive profiles in each person's awareness. Of course, that awareness is always subjective and one person will totally over-look concerns that affect him, which to someone else may seem obvious.

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

"I even stay (mostly) away from politics on Twitter " Excellent! Your government has worked hard for many decades to promote a culture where the discussion of politics and anything government or civics related is as taboo as possible no matter whether you are at work or at church or even in a social gathering. Before the great society citizens were far too engaged in discussing what their government was doing. That in turn made it very difficult for those of us who are in politics for the power to do as we please without fear of consequence or public backlash. Thanks to this mindset of Politics is a big No-No no matter where or who has helped us build the Federal Government into the monster it is. So thank you Scott Lowe and Joe Public for helping keep alive the fear of discussing anything government/politics/civic related. With your continued support those of us in power will have everything like we want in just a few short more years. While the above is sarcasm used to make a point it is none-the-less a valid point. The fear of discussing politics is not normal. Our grandparents and their parents were far more informed of what government was doing during their day then we are today despite the fact that they didnt even have TV yet. They were not afraid to discuss politics in their day. This politics is taboo is something that was encouraged and pushed into society in order to discourage the masses from being informed about their government and its actions. And if you dont believe me just look at how many people, possibly the author of this article included, are just now realizing that our Federal government has spent our childrens childrens grandchildrens future by borrowing us into debt slavery at a national level. This did not happen in just the last year or two but has been slowly increasing over the decades. Its time to stop acting like politics is some form of high contagious disease.

amendez52
amendez52

Further yet ruijorgemartins: In reality politicians do it all the time, and get away with it.

paulfx1
paulfx1

It should be something like 10 Things That if You Do Them Poorly Can be Damaging, or something to that effect. Because if you're adept at all of the above the sky is the limit!

steve.hammill
steve.hammill

Were these supposed to be in order of risk? If so, #3 & #5 should top the list; everything else is comparatively low risk to those.

fjfb
fjfb

Get sued. It's like 'Crime', but worse. Everyone gets to ponder the particulars.

fremonty
fremonty

Its a rare company event that I don't see someone in power. Often seems to help their career, but then I am in sales.

g01d4
g01d4

(ref: The Peter Principle) How about 12. Write obvious lists.

'techy'
'techy'

Gossip can sometimes ruin the reputation of those that your gossiping about. Most of the time gossip is skewed, misunderstood truths, or outright lies. If you're the starting point of slander or gossip, people take that very seriously, then your name will be on the bad reputation list. Swearing when the situation is proper, whatever, I still wouldn't even then, but using vulgar language isn't a right course of action in an office setting, especially when your talking with a business client. Clean speech will always generate respect.

ruijorgemartins
ruijorgemartins

If you're a politician, you can do all 10 and nothing happens.

martinharvey2000
martinharvey2000

Most of the bad things happening when you do those things often happen after a long while. If you lie, sooner or later...probably the latter, you're gonna get caught and then your reputation will start going down. So, the basic principle is to be honnest with others, of course, but also with yourself. It's usually tough because you see all those people during your career escaping from difficult situations by cheating or using shortcuts while you run the whole marathon but, with time, people will reckognize that. That's when it starts to pay and I gotta be honnest, when it starts paying off and you hear about people who are now in trouble because they cheated and go caught... (I'm sorry to be human but) it makes the victory all the sweeter. But, remember, only in the long run...

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

I think those individuals that really need this advice are those that don't really think they're doing anything wrong in the first place. Thus they are the least likely to heed this advice.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Though to be fair it was at the Bosses direction and on his insistence. I also use to say that he knew what he was doing which was so obviously incorrect that whenever I said it everyone laughed. #7 is a bit harder though from my personal experience I don't have any problem or see it as Hard to admit when I've screwed up it's a fact of life and I'm human after all. Though others insist that I'm perfect it's not something that I've ever said or anything I've ever believed in. The fighting bit when you get blamed for others is some what harder as it all depends on what's happened. The biggest problems I used to run into where Salespeople selling incompatible Hardware and then insisting that I make it work like they said it would. Of course the salespeople where only selling what they had excess stock of and where not the slightest bit interested in selling what the customer required so I took steps to prevent this happening again by organizing the required hardware and then putting it through as a sale for the sales people to fight over for the commission. :D The rest is straight forward or what should be [b]Common Sense[/b] which unfortunately is very uncommon and lacks any form of sense. Col

jfuller05
jfuller05

are huge blows to the rep of an individual. If you think about it, all three are related too. If you commit 8, then (depending on how 8 is executed) you're a hypocrite *and* a liar. For example, if in one group of people Bob praises Apple, then with the next group of people bashes Apple and shows someone why the DROID bionic (Bob's phone) is superior to an iPhone, then goes to the other group praising Apple; pulls out his bionic and laments how it will never be as good as the iphone, is Bob not a hypocrite and a liar? *granted, that was quite the simplistic example and possibly a major run-on sentence, but hey it was what came to mind first*

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

University Professors? Actually the list is endless anywhere there is Politics in the Office this situation exists. ;) Col

dayen
dayen

I back you on this one never backdown from discussing Politics, stay informed, watch them like a hawk.

Professor8
Professor8

What constitutes "swearing" or "bad words" or "incivility" varies from place to place, individual to individual. What one person considers an unforgiveable word use is perfectly acceptable local parlance to others. I've even seen the same person use what I consider to be extremely foul language in one context and then in another context that same person condemned someone else for what I consider to be a mild and appropriate exclamation under the circumstances. I've seen people in the act of committing crimes get all huffy because someone else used what they considered to be a "bad word" after several attempts to get the recidivist criminal to stop. I knew one fellow who was adept at making humorously shocking statements without using any of the words those present would consider "bad". One instance that comes to mind is one of those web sites that purports to "debate the issues of the day in a non-partisan, civil way" which was totally disgusting. Those on one side were lying and misrepresenting the statements of the other all over the place, and blocking access to them to correct or challenge those slanders, regardless of the words and terms used. No, "clean speech" does not always generate respect. These days, it usually generates suspicion.

BitHammer
BitHammer

you can be too perfect and you will certainly be accused of all 10!

BitHammer
BitHammer

#6 and #10. Those people cannot see themselves as anything less than perfect.

kenjwsu
kenjwsu

Sales people have a complete and valid reason to actually follow the changing stance, but rather than ruining their image, it actually improves it by proving they can adapt to the customer's situation. In that regards, he is not a hypocrite as he's (hopefully) delivering facts of what is better than the other, and only being a "liar" by omitting the opposing argument. I only bring it up because when I was a salesperson, I tried to keep my personal beliefs out of it. Unless they were looking at something that I absolutely supported, in which case, I would talk it up right along with them.

GSG
GSG

Just be careful about the language, especially if you work directly with clients outside of the "local culture". For example, we worked with a team out of New York City. The language, dress, and mannerisms that were acceptable in their local culture were definitely NOT acceptable here in the bible belt while they were on site. There was a meeting to discuss proper manners, volume of voice, dress, and the use of the f-bomb as well as other curse words. They were flabbergasted that this was an issue, but we'd had so many complaints from our employees and customers that we had to address it.