Say What?! The Impact of Words on the Workplace

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” –Pearl Strachan

From Melissa Leo to Charlie Sheen to John Galliano, celebrity diarrhea of the mouth seems to have reached epic proportion. Unfortunately, unlike some missteps, for many of these situations a simple mea culpa probably won’t cut it. These star stumbles show the significant impact that an ill-chosen word can have on one’s career:

The Mouth on Melissa

This past weekend, veteran actress Melissa Leo made a rookie move: She dropped the F-Bomb as part of her Oscar speech on live TV. What should have been a sophisticated and shining moment for her was colored by her off-color language. While even the best of us have had a slip up when speaking, the best way to avoid that is to have key messages down and practice prior to walking into a meeting or stepping onto a stage. (This also came on the heels of controversy tied to the in-your-face campaign launched by her which threatened to derail her chances of taking home the statuette. The lesson there: Strike a balance between passive and pesky when promoting yourself. While we appreciate her gumption, it came off as too self-congratulatory and tainted what was widely touted as a stellar performance.)

The Sentiments of Sheen

Calling himself a “warlock,” “rockstar” and a “god” are not the worst things he has proclaimed during his many (MANY) interviews over the last week. Instead of positioning himself as a man in control and on the rebound, his over-the-top statements have quickly painted him as losing touch with reality. What’s even more disturbing is how willing he has been to throw aside friends, family and long-standing relationships simply to be right. (And word came today that his children have been removed from his house as part of this massive swirl.) So, what can you learn from the diary of this madman? First – don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Unlike Sheen who railed against his boss, co-workers and others, keep your opinions to yourself — or share them only with the most trusted of confidantes. Certainly, don’t take to the airwaves (or social media like Facebook or Twitter) to share your grievances. It can only negatively affect your reputation.

The Gall of Galliano

The most egregious example of all was the eccentric fashion designer, John Galliano, who shocked many by spilling vitrol in a Paris cafe. And, although there are claims that he was framed and Galliano himself is suing his accusers for defamation, it’s hard to deny the allegations, given that there were numerous witnesses AND his anti-Jewish slurs were caught on tape. The fall-out has already begun: In response to his various run-ins tied to his statements, the designer was dismissed from his long-term gig at Dior. As well, Oscar-winner (and face of the fashion house fragrance) Natalie Portman made the definitive gesture of distancing herself from the accused anti-Semite. In an industry where image is everything, this is something that could derail his career forever and send him to jail for several months. The main lesson (aside from don’t be a hateful jerk) is that everything you say, do and post can and will be used against you. Take a moment before hitting send on an email or making statements (be it to friends or strangers), as they could easily have a huge impact on your career.

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