What Are You Willing To Risk Your Reputation For?

In May 2013 there was an incident online that culminated in a fairly well known online personality losing her gig as a spokesperson, two other people losing their jobs, and a fairly well known conference losing its luster. In the long run everyone was tainted, everyone was to blame, and it ends up giving us some lessons to learn about just how powerful social media can be. And, for once, it involved someone I know, so I hope I present this as fairly as possible.

F Delventhal
via Compfight

Here’s the general overview. Two guys were at a conference sitting in the audience and saying some things to each other that weren’t quite proper in public. The person in front of them heard it, didn’t appreciate it, turned around and called them on it. They apologized for it and maybe all should have been over then and there.

But it wasn’t. The person in front, who happens to be the person I know, turned around and took a picture of the two guys and uploaded it to Twitter, with a brief report. That’s when things got out of hand.

The two guys were representing a company that was advertising at the conference. Once they were recognized they were fired.

The person who took the picture was representing someone as a personality who was sponsoring the event. Many people felt she went overboard with the picture, especially since the two guys had apologized, and that made the sponsor genuflect and relieve her. And since a lot of what she did involved some of the talent of the conference, the trickle down meant having to now scramble for someone else to handle what she’d been doing, someone not as well known and not as skilled.

Would you say that everything that could go wrong went wrong? Who’s at fault here? Is this cut and dry, or is it pretty complicated?

It is and isn’t complicated. Let’s run down a few things here.

1. In this day and age, people tend to believe they can say whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it. The loss of decorum is problematic, but that’s a separate issue.

2. The real issue is that almost everyone has a smartphone with a camera, and they could have been recorded being stupid as well as having their picture taken. If you’re in public, even if you’re not well known, you can’t afford to be saying overtly stupid things. We never found out if it was sexist or racist, but if this person I know reacted that badly to it, it had to be one of those, as she’s a black female.

3. Based on what was said, did she go too far, not far enough, or not in the proper manner? It’s hard to say. As I get older I let more of that type of thing roll off my shoulders, though I’d have said something, but when I was younger I’d have gone for the jugular, knowing I was right whether I was or not.

4. Still, being in her position, she had to know that something was going to happen, at least to the two people. What she didn’t count on was the reaction of other people to what she’d done. Do apologies overcome all bad behavior? Not even close. Is there a time and place for everything? Absolutely.

5. The thing is that even being known by people at that event, she wasn’t on the level of a TV or movie celebrity where everyone would have immediately sided with her. Even so, do you think if it had been someone like Selina Gomez that she’d have been treated much differently?

6. The company that fired her; did they over react or do the right thing? They were not being tainted by bad publicity but did they stop to consider her feelings? Should they have? Did they consider the consequences of how it could affect the conference? Did it matter?

At this point there are no more answers to be found. The two guys were fired and their 15 minutes are over. The person I know has gone into a self imposed exile for awhile. The buzz has died down so the sponsor is probably going to be fine, and the conference will probably survive for another year but it’s been diminished a bit because even though there were some people who felt what the person I know did was wrong, there were a lot of people who said they’d have done the same thing.

The major lesson is that if you’re representing someone, even just yourself, in a public space for business purposes, your decorum has to be higher than normal. Even if you’re in the right, you could end up on the wrong side of things in the long run. Think about this cautionary tale; what are you willing to risk your reputation for?

9 thoughts on “What Are You Willing To Risk Your Reputation For?”

  1. Hey Mitch,

    This is a complicated one, but coming from the outside looking in, I would have just let it slide off my shoulder since they already apologize. I figure why make matters worse. So judging from this situation, was there an incentive she believe she could have if she were to take the photos and put it on twitter? Or was this more personal?

    1. Hey Sherman! I think we’d have to assume it was totally personal, since I doubt she knew them and, obviously, they weren’t paying attention to who was in front of them. I’ve heard mess like this in my life but rarely; being bigger and having a stare that can scare people I’ve found that works best for me. Still, because we don’t know what was really said it’s hard to get there.

      I can’t say what I would have done other than the stare. I’d have wanted what happened to these guys to happen and not felt guilty one bit. But giving them any publicity at all by putting their picture up there, especially since she was representing someone else and not herself… that would have made me think twice.

  2. Hell Mitch, what a fiasco! Was she wrong to do what she did? I think she’s thinking that it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. She was obviously upset by what was said and reacted without thinking.

    Perhaps if she had taken a ten second timeout she would have thought about the possible consequences and not reacted the way she did.

    As for them firing her? I can understand why they did so. They probably just didn’t want any repercussions from any continued relationship with her.

    1. Pete, I can understand why they had to step away from her also. Still, I know it’s hard when people say something that triggers an immediate response from you. We’re not always blessed with the perspective of time unfortunately.

  3. I’ve been known to put my foot in it when arguing amongst family but if I’m out and about I usually think pretty carefully before blowing up at anyone. If anything I would have kept the whole thing to myself if I overheard a discussion. I would have made a mental note about them being a couple of wankers but I wouldn’t have approached them about it.

  4. #1: I’d argue that loss of compassion and forgiveness is almost as bad as the distasteful inability to self-censor and behave with decorum or “stage presence” in a public venue. We all judge. We should all be very careful not to judge more harshly than we would want to BE judged, and to show the sort of mercy we would hope for – especially if we’re contrite and repentant.

    #2: “We never found out if it was sexist or racist, but if this person I know reacted that badly to it, it had to be one of those, as she’s a black female.” Isn’t that a bit racist and sexist? Couldn’t she have been offended if they’d made disparaging remarks about the competition, or used profanity, or – well, any number of things? Granted, it’s not a leap to guess as you did, but bottom line: You don’t know.

    #3: I believe in being direct. And in taking a SINCERE apology, when it’s offered. (I can usually tell. I’m not overly sensitive about most things, and I’d rather err on the side of giving too much benefit of the doubt than too little. Depends on whether these guys are repeat offenders.) I wouldn’t have shamed them on Twitter unless they escalated their crude behavior. The picture, IF needed, would have been better kept off Twitter and in HR.

    #6: Companies are in business to make money. Nice if they show some humanity and compassion, but that’s not what they’re known for. Perhaps it wasn’t a good fit – all around – for any of the players. I do tend to make a distinction between what is said and done when one is representing their employer vs. what is said and done privately, as an individual. I try not to reflect badly on my employer, ever – but they do not own me and do not get to dictate what I say, when I’m not acting on their behalf. That would be… oligarchy. I’m not too eager to test the limits, but I would – if I felt strongly enough.

    1. Well… I’m going to respond but you’re not going to like part of #2; just letting you know. 🙂

      I totally agree with you on #1. You and I have talked about my propensity to say that people can have freedom of speech if they’re not afraid of the consequences. Yet people say these things, consequences come, and they’re shocked; pure idiocy if you ask me.

      On #2… based on the definition of the word when I was growing up (since it seems dictionaries have decided to change the definition) my statement can’t be racist because I’m not in a capacity in America to be racist. I could certainly be sexist though. However, I do know the person and knew the types of things she occasionally railed against, so I’m comfortable in believing it was one of those two things. I know what my triggers are when I come close to losing my temper in public. Since it’s not a trial… I can live with it. lol

      For #3, I’m not quite direct. I will be indirect in a direct way though, definitely going more for the public “shame” factor if I need to; my wife says that’s my one mean streak but when I’m irked I like to “teach” permanent lessons. It’s possible she saw her way as a nonverbal reaction, which I could understand, but I’m with you that I wouldn’t have done it that way.

      For #6… very tough call indeed. I couldn’t condemn the organization for dismissing her and I wouldn’t have condemned the organization for keeping her based on what occurred, figuring they had to have been told what really happened. A public event, a social media event, and a backlash like that… had to be a hard decision to make. I think they were in trouble either way things went.

  5. Hey Mitch,

    Seems like the entire thing got way out of hand. People will be asses, it’s part of life. We learn to live with it or go around angry all the darn time.

    Being a female I tend to get upset and call people out when someone says something while I’m in ear shot that I find inappropriate. Yes, I’m a very nice person but I’m also very headstrong and I won’t put up with anyones crap.

    Had I overheard them saying something I didn’t like I would have said something. Had they apologized and I felt them meant it I would have let it go. End of story, they would just go down in the books as jerks.

    It sounds to me that it all got blown out of proportion and not knowing exactly what took place or what was said I can’t really say whether or not the companies had the right to fire them. It’s their business and of course their decision.

    I do agree to watch yourself while in public especially with all the mobile devices they have around because you never know when you might end up on YouTube saying something pretty darn dumb.

    This is our reputation we need to uphold so unless we all want something like that happening to us I say just watch yourself and try to remember that it’s not about you. People will be jerks and you just can’t get around that.


    1. Adrienne, I’ve spent a lot of life learning how to keep control of myself. It’s worked out well; luckily I haven’t had to do it all that often. It’s probably because when I’m out I have mental shields set up to protect my psyche from things that could happen. Preparation is always a key towards self control I figure.

      Still, you never know when something might happen that your thinking process is compromised for a moment. That’s what I think happened here. It’s too bad because I hate that she basically went into exile; I think she’s fascinating and I miss her stuff. If we’re going to be in the public eye though we do need to be thinking about our behavior more often.

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