Remember the days when a boss could get away with making a slightly awkward joke and it was forgotten by the next day?
Or the mass viral office emails that would make some employees laugh hysterically and others turn a bright shade of pink and push delete at lightning speed? Those days are over.
As someone determined to keep their sense of humour while running a company, the line between an acceptable facetious joke and a potentially offensive remark must be navigated wisely. 2014 is the year to reflect how you communicate, and this includes rethinking how you banter and joke, as well as how you use those well meaning glib statements.
With this week’s resignation of co-founder of Rap Genius Mahbod Moghadam over controversial off-hand comments regarding shooter Elliot Rodger, it is well worth taking a moment to reconsider before pressing the “publish” button.
And let us not forget, the uproar when Britain’s first Youth Police and Crime Commissioner Paris Brown last year quit her role after posting Twitter comments that alluded to drug use. The wrong Tweet, Instagram image or Facebook post can very quickly cause you to not only lose your position, but potentially damage your company.
As business leaders, we should be conscious that we represent the values of our brand, not only to the public, but to our fellow colleagues. You may have the opportunity to do this in an irreverent and sassy way (which personally I think is fabulous), but you must always be cautious that it never crosses into the boundaries of bad taste.
You simply never know who you may be offending, or what their background may be. Wisdom tells us to think before we speak, and as someone who has made the wrong remark on many occasions, both in the board room and on radio, I recognise the importance of understanding that not everyone will take a comment in the spirit you intended.
I also recognise that it may often prove difficult to distinguish a suitable moment to make an off the cuff comment if you are the type of person who is rarely offended by anything (aka people like myself). Yet, as a leader you are seen as the host and vehicle of your employee’s ideals and they deserve to be represented in a way that allows them to feel comfortable and secure in the knowledge that their relationship with the business is not a risk to their personal reputation.
This is not just relevant to use of social media, but also to our day to day activities. The banter you are having behind closed doors with people that “get” you is likely to be quite different to the banter that is acceptable with your staff or clients.
I have heard many times the self-affirming, but slightly misguided comment “I should be able to be myself at work”. Yes, you should absolutely be yourself and operate with authenticity. This isn’t about that; this is about simply being mindful of the values and nuances of those around you. If “being you” means Tweeting a joke that causes a major advertiser to cancel a campaign or a client to renege on a contract – was it worth it?
A business leader cares primarily about one thing – results. If your comments could lead to the loss of profit or reputation of your company, the few moments of speaking your mind is simply not worth it. Of course, someone’s career or job security shouldn’t ever be threatened due their private activities so long as those activities, belief systems or political bias don’t affect the brand of the company. However, I’m not referring to this closed-door personal bias, I’m referring to communication and actions that affect the brand you represent publicly.
Many of us, with the full impact of social media on our businesses now evident, are treading carefully the lines that may blur with the likelihood of disastrous wide-reaching affects. And I don’t even want to get into the whole “accidental” graphic image that US airways tweeted earlier this year….Think before you post!
Written by Alexandra Tselios, Founder and Publisher of The Big Smoke. Alexandra has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields. She is also an expert business start-up consultant and provides strategic advice to young Australian start-ups or entrepreneurs seeking assistance in taking their business or idea to the next level.
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