It’s the little things that kill…your reputation

April 14, 2011

Public relations, Social media

The little things can make or break your reputation. (Image from










My wife was right. Yep, I said it. Kind of hard to type at first, but I came around. After all, it pains a guy to admit he was wrong. And it pains a guy even more to admit he was wrong when his wife is the one who was right :) .

Guys, I think you know what I mean. But what can I say? When you’re right, you’re right. And she was right. About the little things. And just how big of a deal they really are.

I remember the conversations well. Everything from how people can read your reaction by your facial expression to making eye contact to getting the silverware right at a dinner event. All things she said were important. All things I said weren’t that big a deal. All things she was right about.

You can be the biggest rock star at your job ever. But if you can’t master the little things, it won’t ever matter. Because the little things define your reputation, like it or not. Here are 10 I try to pay attention to…a lot more attention now thanks to my wife :) .

  1. Eye contact. When someone is talking to you, look them in the eye. It doesn’t have to be the whole time. It’s not a staring contest. But show them you’re listening and you actually care about what they’re saying. Lack of eye contact makes most people think one thing — you’re ignoring them.
  2. Cursing. Unless you are Gary Vanyerchuck or George Carlin, you’d be well advised to not curse just to curse. Often times, it makes you look like you’re trying too hard be cool.I know I’ve even been guilty of it from time to time. And btw, saying you don’t have a filter and then dropping a bunch of F-bombs doesn’t make it ok.
  3. Your social presences. I really can’t believe we have to have this conversation, but I just saw a student’s Twitter account the other day that confirmed to me it’s still an issue. If you post something on a social network, people can see it. Companies will find it. You will not get a job or lose a job because of it. A client may not do business with your agency based on it. C’mon people…seriously?
  4. Reading the room. When you’re talking to a colleague or client, do you watch their face to see how they’re reacting? It’s really important to do this and to throw in questions to keep them engaged in the conversation, make sure they understand where you’re going. Reading and reacting to people is one of the most important skills we have to develop and constantly hone as communicators.
  5. Grammar and style. We were talking on #pr20chat the other day about how today’s communicator needs to be able to write for Twitter and write using AP Style. Master both and don’t let mistakes in your writing take away from the great ideas you bring to the table. Invest in an AP Style book and a Strunk and White grammar guide if you need to.
  6. Salad fork, dinner fork. Nothing feels more stodgy to me than a lesson in dinner table etiquette. Know what I mean? But it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. What maters is that people pay attention to it. Even if they say they don’t. Not to stereotype, but I guarantee you the boomers you work for/with pay attention to it.
  7. Facial expression. Next time someone at work gives you some news or feedback you don’t like, go look in the mirror. Does your face give away everything? Do you look like you just lost your puppy? Work on that poker face. There is a difference between being authentic and having a real conversation with a colleague about an issue versus looking like you can’t keep your emotions in check.
  8. Multitasking. If you are going to multitask while you’re having a conversation, make sure you know who you’re talking to. Some people won’t mind and might actually be impressed that you can tweet, IM, e-mail and talk to them at the same time. Others will find it flat out rude. And they will walk away thinking you don’t have any tact. It’s not an excuse to blame it on your generation or that others don’t mind when you do it. Know your audience.
  9. Drinking. Again, know the situation. Can you have a drink with a client at an event or even a meeting. Sure. Should you be out all night drinking with your clients? 99.9 percent of the time, no. This one could be an entire post in itself. But the bottom line is use tact and common sense. And remember…you work with/for these people.
  10. Fashion statement. Judging people based on what they wear sounds pretty superficial, huh? Well, then consider us all superficial, because almost everyone does it. Dress for the job you want is a cliche for a reason…because it’s true. But I would add that like a lot of these examples, knowing the situation and dressing for it is the key. And that doesn’t just mean special occasions or client meetings, It means every day.

What would you add to the list? Do you have any stories that reinforce or rebut these examples? Tips or tricks for remembering the little things?

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Shonali 1296 pts

I agree with all these, and I'll add one more (this is one that came to mind immediately). If you're going to interrupt a conversation between someone you don't know, and someone you do (and you're seeing the latter after a long time), DO apologize for the interruption to BOTH people, and DON'T push the person you don't know aside without even looking at them.

This actually happened to me a couple of years ago at BlogPotomac (I was the "unknown" in question), and the "pusher" was a big-name blogger. I could not believe how rude he was, even though his online persona seems to thrive on it. However, I will never take him seriously as a person, other than someone who's built a reputation by, and for, being brash. And as for recommending him? Ha!

OK. Rant over. Thanks for the forum, Justin!

JGoldsborough 247 pts

Shonali People talk about the little things. This is a perfect example. He does that enough times and the WOM will start to spread.

The thing that bothers me is how often people seem to cast off these little things into the "whatever" category. If something gets people talking negatively about you, it is absolutely something you need to pay attention to. It doesn't matter what you think personally. It matters what other people think. And it seems all tough and macho to say "I don't care what other people think." Well, that works for 1 of every 100,000 people or so. The rest of us better care.