As they waited to be called into the courtroom, two men were discussing their jury duty assignments. Both were teachers. Juror #1 relayed how glad he was that he was able to get a substitute and didn’t have to ask the assistant principal to stand in. Juror #2 complained, “The assistant principal at my school couldn’t run my class if she wanted to. She doesn’t even have her teaching credentials!”
Juror #1 sensed that he was about to get an earful so he quickly asked, “Do you by any chance work at Lakeview High School?” Juror #2 said that he did. Juror #1 replied, “You must be talking about Elaine. She’s my wife.”
Talk about an awkward situation! Like Juror #2, too few people realize that what they say and do can offend people and will likely have a ripple effect on their lives. It may be for a week, or it may be for a lifetime.
It is a Small World After All
At the heart of today’s lesson is the reality that it is indeed a small world. What’s more, the pervasiveness of the internet in our personal and professional lives has shrunk our world even smaller. As a case in point, I’ve seen statistics ranging from 50% to 70% relating to the percentage of employers who now Google prospective employees.
By now, everyone has heard the career advice “Don’t burn bridges” and “Never say anything bad about a former employer in an interview.” I would go a step further and tell you, “Do not burn bridges in any area of your life. Period!”
Consider a few of these very plausible situations:
- The elderly person whose tire you change on the side of the road may be the brother of the chairman of the board at your company. This act of service may be the difference in getting that next promotion.
- The hostess at your favorite restaurant whom you always treat respectfully may be the daughter of your most valued prospective client.
- The neighbor you wave to and smile at every morning may be the person in charge of hiring for that job you really want.
On the other hand:
- The woman at the club whom you have treated with a cold shoulder may be the wife of your husband’s most important customer.
- The man standing behind you in the grocery store who heard you being disrespectful to the cashier may be one of the business leaders on the scholarship committee at your daughter’s school.
- The co-worker you excluded and made feel unwelcome at your last job may be best friends with your new boss.
The older I get, the more of these small-world “coincidences” I see. I have come to understand and appreciate that we live in a connected world, and these connections play a vital role in our lives.
The truth is, you never know who someone knows or whether they might enter your life again at a future date. Why risk alienating anyone? Besides not being a nice thing to do, it can have devastating effects on your reputation.
Every interaction you have with someone does one of two things: it helps your reputation or it hurts your reputation. Here’s a perfect example.
One evening I was in a hurry to get home for an important call when I pulled into my residential area behind a car that was going 10 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. I wanted to honk, yell, and flash my lights at the slow poke that was making me late for my call. Moment after agonizing moment passed as I followed him down street after street. Still, this driver did not turn off. This continued right up to my neighbor’s driveway. You guessed it. The driver was my neighbor who wasn’t feeling well that evening. As a new neighbor, I did not recognize his car.
Had I given in to my impulses and honked or gotten irritated and sped around him, my actions could have negatively affected my neighbor’s view of me. As a man of influence in the community, who knows what the ripple effect could have been?
Time for a Checkup
Your reputation is a life-long accumulation of your actions and your interactions with the people around you. What does your reputation say about you today? What would your neighbors, co-workers, or business acquaintances say about you if they were asked for a personal recommendation?
Have you burned bridges in the past? Most of us have at one time or another, but it is possible—and advisable—to make amends. Oftentimes, when you go out of your way to restore a previously damaged relationship, you make a stronger, more favorable impression than if you were to let “sleeping dogs lie.”
Take some time today to do a self-examination of your reputation. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know right away in which areas you need to improve. And again, if you have burned a few bridges in your past, perhaps it’s time to restore some of those damaged relationships. At least make the effort. You’ll feel better about yourself and who knows, you may be doing yourself a favor. It’s a small world!
If you have any “small world” stories, please share them in the comments section below this post.
Build a personal reputation that speaks for you when you are not around.
Entrepreneurship, Personal Brand, Relationships, Sales