Reputation Rehabilitated?

Part 2 – Managing Hearsay

Associate yourself with people of good quality,

for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” 

Booker T. Washington

At a minimum, one goal of reputation rehabilitation should be that the news of vindication should be communicated to everyone in your reputational network who might have been exposed to the original defamatory assertions.

In village life in the 16th century the remedy was straight forward – at Sunday morning church service the defamer would stand before the congregation and announce that he or she had sinned against the individual, perhaps acknowledging the falsity of their assertions, publicly apologizing and seeing forgiveness.  The news would be fully and effectively distributed to the individual’s full reputation network.

In today’s segmented and mobile social life, reputation networks are extended and fragmented. The damage from false and inaccurately repeated assertions cannot be completely ascertained.

The distributive quality of reputational “news” is such that year’s later versions of the false report might arise at a meeting to determine the individual’s well-being or future career prospects.

Or rather than check the job candidates provided references the hiring manager calls “a friend” and hears any number of versions of the “truth” all of which are based on hearsay and 2nd hand reportage.  Why do we have references? Typically they know your first hand story and in the interests of transparency have been made aware of any defects in your façade.

Defamatory assertions cannot be traced in the same way an infectious disease is tracked in a public health investigation.  The communication link within a social network can skip any identifiable routing, for example, through overheard gossip.  Nor can such defamatory reports be “recalled” as in the case of a defective product because no record exists of all the “buyers” involved.

We all have our own examples – mid October 2007, and after an interview process with Toys R Us that lasted almost 10 months combined with an extensive disclosure process I was hired by the VP of Marketing to run a Marketing Database RFP project.  She confirmed the hire on October 29 by email to a small group including procurement.  Yet despite clear documentation and the necessary internal introductions my role was never widely understood and the hire was interpreted negatively.

‘In the absence of information we make up our own’ which is where, in my view, most rumors have their roots.  I add to the phrase ‘and most of it is negative’.

There is no wide reaching mean of cleansing the wrongful or out of date assertion other than to strike t to re define the wrong.  But frankly, this provides only limited relief and most of it personal.

The internet has created an entirely new venue for defamation with novel complexities and impossible barriers to resolution.

So what’s the answer?  Well there isn’t one that’s completely satisfying.

Meet with those whose respect and trust you value to bring them directly up to date.

Be transparent and forthright.  You won’t influence everyone but, at the least, you will have them thinking.

Or, maybe you just have to think of the detractors as part of that “bad company” that Booker T Washington refers to and just move on.

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