Insight article

Loose words and corporate reputations

I was sitting opposite a young man on the train the other day. One of those loud, 'I-don't-care-who-hears-what-I-have-to-say' types. I got the impression he was rather pleased with himself. Anyway, by all accounts he was some kind of software developer in his early 20s working on behalf of a major tech company, judging by the very loud conversation he was having with his colleague. His colleague, too, was loud enough for me to hear what was being said the other end of the phone.

The conversation was long and boring, but consisted mostly of this young man having a go at the tech company which had employed him. And bringing in two other major players into the conversation too, each of which received a thorough lambasting in turn. How they could behave in such a way, with their disgraceful systems, bureaucracy and appalling decision-making was enough to prompt anyone with shares in these tech giants to sell their stock with immediate effect. The rest of my fellow passengers had pricked up their ears by now. What else could we learn about these monsters? Name and shame them he did, dutifully informing the carriage of the injustices and stupidity of certain (named) people, who, quite frankly, didn't deserve to be in gainful employment. Anyone on the phone wishing their little ones good-night had by now hung up, shifting rather uncomfortably in their seats as the rant went on. And on. And on.

You never know who you are going to be sitting next to in a public place, nor what influence they might have. I've been in a train carriage with an HR Director who let the whole lot of us know that her company was about to announce a series of job cuts (confidential of course). The same week we heard a story about an innocent, private comment made in a restaurant by a consultant about a piece of work with one of the banks that was looking very promising. The next day, thanks to the journalist who'd been eavesdropping, the story had broke and was in print. Consultancy X was going to sort Bank X out. In this case it was the consultant who suffered; needless to say they won't be working with Bank X in the immediate future.They would have done a brilliant job too.

Loose words can cause reputational damage to companies and individuals at the drop of a hat. Next time I'm on the train I will remind these loud-mouths to keep it zipped. Not only do we want to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet during our commute home, but indiscrete commentary can create all sorts of problems. Walls have ears: we may not be at war, but a damaged reputation costs companies and brands millions. And none of us, as Tiger Woods I'm sure would agree, would want that.

Nailia Tasseel