My Two Cents: The Spoken Word Was Our First Technology
Personal Attribution May Come at the Mercy of the Company
It has become very obvious that all of us need to be careful what we say. In addition to the outright outlandish statements (See: Donald Sterling), to what seem like almost mundane statements until blown out of proportion by the press, it is clear we need to be careful when selecting the words we use. Certainly, today’s world of Facebook, Twitter, and a wide-open Internet has played a part in amplifying the words we say. However, this is not a new problem, it is one that has been around for quite some time. We need to remind all of those under us to be careful about the words for which they are responsible.
Shame on You, Shame on Me
Here are two examples that occurred long before the Internet, cell phones, and the like.
We moved to our present location in 1970. For many years, we had used Chevrolet as our vehicle of choice, and there is a large Chevrolet dealership about two miles from our new location. One Saturday, shortly after our move, I thought I would stop in at that Chevrolet dealer to get a feel for their pricing, courtesy, etc. After entering the showroom, I asked for a truck salesman and was introduced to a young man who indicated he was the manager of truck sales.
I explained who I was and that I was interested in establishing a relationship with a dealership so close to our new offices. I then asked to get a price on a new pickup truck. The salesman asked if I planned to buy today and I said no, though explained again that I was interested in establishing a relationship at this point, and that I’d need several trucks in the future.
His response surprised me then, and as I think of it now, some 44 years later, it still surprises me. His statement was that if I wasn’t there to buy today, that I should just go look at the sticker on a pickup truck and use that as the price. In other words, if I wasn’t willing to buy today, he wasn’t interested in
talking to me.
Since then, we’ve bought probably 175-200 trucks. Not one of those trucks was purchased from the neighborhood dealership because I was so turned off by that salesman’s attitude.
Another instance worked in reverse for our company. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, sheet metal workers would commonly install the flues off of pre-fab fireplaces. We had heard some rumblings from other contractors that, on their job sites, the carpenters had been installing those flues as they built the surrounding chase. One of our men was on a job installing the sheet metal rough-in when a carpenter began installing the pre-fab fireplace flue.
Our man said, in a not very friendly fashion to the carpenter, “that is our work.” The carpenter said he was merely doing what he had been instructed to do by the builder. Apparently, things got a little testy, although, fortunately, no punches were thrown. About that time, the builder came into the home and asked what was going on. The carpenter explained to him what had transpired and apparently our man got rude with the builder about the situation. The builder proceeded to tell our guy to leave the job and I shortly received a call from the builder saying we would no longer be doing his work. That builder continued to build several homes for a number of years later — none of which involved our company because of one employee’s demeanor.
Think Before You Speak
These are two rather radical examples of what can take place if you aren’t careful with your words. What scares me is whether or not there are other examples when the words of an employee cost us to lose a job, or a customer, and we just never heard about it. Now, fast forward to 2014, think of all of the words your employees can communicate to the world.
Previously, we had to worry mainly about one-on-one communications. Today, we have to worry about any and all words that could be communicated from our company. Not only do we have to worry about those words, but we have to think of the implications and meaning of those words. The unfortunate thing is that words that are written don’t have the benefit of receiving the emphasis that the writer of those words may wish to put forth. How many sentences may have two different meanings — perhaps even opposite meanings — depending upon the emphasis on certain words in the sentence? This emphasis is not present in written Facebook and Twitter postings. This leaves interpreting such an emphasis to the listener (or reader). How dangerous is that?
The moral of this story is these new communication methods are not going away. In fact, they’re only evolving further, as new mediums are already on the way to take the place of Facebook and Twitter. So, if they are not going away, then we better redouble our efforts to exercise caution and common sense in absolutely every communication that could be attributed to our company. This goes for everyone in the company, from the janitor to the CEO. If you don’t watch things carefully, don’t blame us when the wrong words have a negative or even devastating impact on your company.
Publication date: 6/16/2014