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.
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.
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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 with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.