It’s a Small World, So Be Careful What You Say

Jessica was riding the subway home to Brooklyn one Saturday afternoon and, while holding onto a pole on a crowded train car, she overheard two young women talking about a co-worker — and, as it turns out, a friend of hers. Using the friend’s first and last name, they were saying that she was thinking about moving back to her Midwestern city and planned to ask her company if she could work from there. (Any doubt about who they were talking about went out the door when Jessica noticed that the duo was wearing clothing adorned with the logo of her friend’s company.)

That seemingly innocuous conversation could have been truly detrimental. They clearly had no idea that the person standing near them knew the subject of their conversation. It wasn’t even on their radar that their coworker may not have wanted them publicly discussing her career and life plans on a busy subway train.  Luckily, Jessica would never share the specifics of the conversation she overheard on that train but lots of people would. And if that got back to the subject, it could have potentially ruined a relationship or her career plans.

The lesson: We live in an increasingly small world and no matter where you are — whether on a plane, train, vacation or walking down the street on your cell phone — you must consider that everything you say might be heard by the people around you and could easily backfire.

Case in point: There’s a story about a partner in a law firm who, while on a train, was gabbing on his cell about the layoffs that were about to take place at his firm. Little did he know that the person sitting behind him was a blogger who covered the legal industry. Consequently, the news broke online before the people being fired were even notified.

In another example, Meryl’s team once went on a new business meeting and in the elevator up to the prospective client’s offices, were chatting about their plans and practicing what they’d say. When they arrived on the floor, a couple of their fellow passengers got off as well. As it turned out, they were part of the impending meeting. Luckily, no one had said anything incriminating but it was still embarrassing.

Even if you’re not talking about work stuff, you still need to be mindful of airing your opinions in a public place. Jessica’s Pilates instructor recently told the class that she had been in the shower in the gym’s locker room and heard a couple of members talking about how scary she looked with her nose ring and tattoos. Now this woman — who is as cool as they come — took it in stride, but we’re sure that hearing people mock her appearance still hurt.

You should try not to talk too much about work outside the office in general but here are some topics you should definitely avoid:

1. Your boss: There is no circumstance when it’s a good idea to bad mouth your superior in a place where someone might inadvertently hear you. Even in the restroom (especially not the restroom!) where coworkers — or even your boss — are very likely to be in the next stall.

2. Anything proprietary: It sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many people freely discuss confidential information about their companies. What if a competitor happens to be sitting at the next table at a restaurant and what they overhear could help them and hurt you? Why take the risk?

3. Other people’s business: Okay, let’s be honest. Everyone chats about what’s going on with their friends. However, if you’re going to do it in public, don’t use their last names or say anything that might get them in trouble (i.e. “I hear Sally Smith is going to dump her boyfriend/quit her job/rob a bank”).

When in doubt, keep your complaints, secrets and juicy stories about others to yourself or, if you really need to share them, do it in the privacy of your own home.

Have you ever gotten caught talking about someone or overheard a story about someone you know? Share it with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

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