Be Careful of the Company You Keep

Last Updated Apr 30, 2009 12:21 PM EDT

Dear Ron,
One of my friends at work casually mentioned to someone important at my company how much I dislike the project we're working on. I think my friend was just trying to be helpful or maybe she was just careless, but the person she told asked me about it and now I'm in a sticky situation since my current project is very important to the company. What should I do?

You first need to do some damage control with this higher-up, perhaps explaining that your friend exaggerated your displeasure and that while you may have complained about a particular task you were doing, you actually really enjoy working on the overall project. In today's work environment, you can't give anyone any reason to doubt your commitment and work ethic.

But your situation highlights the larger issue of the importance of protecting your brand, something I discussed a few weeks ago in the context of starting at a new job. Since who you are identified with at work is an important part of your brand, you need to think carefully about how your colleagues and friends at work reflect on you and what you tell them. In the end, there may be very few people in your organization that you should share your true feelings with, despite the often considerable temptation to bitch about the boss or vent your frustrations with colleagues.

I once worked with a senior auditor for an accounting firm who had to fight the perception that he wasn't a team player based on some casual remarks from his friends at work that stuck to him. Among other things, I advised him to get some letters of recommendation from his clients noting how well he worked as part of a team, and over time, he managed to change his reputation within the organization. But it's a whole lot easier to prevent those negative perceptions from being formed in the first place by being careful about who at your firm you confide in and what you say to them.

Send Ron your career and job-related questions.

  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.