Years ago, when I first started work, my Manager gave me a book written by famed advertised man, David Ogilvy. It was required reading for any aspiring marketing executive. He warned about talking in public places. His advice has stayed with me over the decades.
But based on what I have experienced, it’s time that Gen X and Millennials take note of his advice – as they have grown up in a world that is less discrete and more carefree.
But loose lips still sink ships!
Mistake 1: Talking business in the Elevator.
Recently I had a meeting on Level 15. Three people employed by the firm I was visiting rode the elevator to the same floor. During the 45 seconds it took to arrive, stopping at a few floors in between, the gossiping trio talked about a ‘hopeless employee’ who had complained about her performance review. I overheard her first name. I even learned the department she worked in. If I were curious enough I could probably find her out on LinkedIn.
I also was able to discern the names of two of the gossiping staff from their security card pass.
Maybe I was going to business with the ‘hopeless employee’. Would I have really wanted to?
Rule # 1: Never, ever talk in the elevator. You never know who is riding with you.
Mistake 2: Talking business in the Restrooms.
As a Career Coach, I visit many office blocks. Often I use the amenities before the meeting. Sometimes staff ‘go’ together to those same restrooms. Yesterday, while there, I overheard two Managers talking to each other about their yet-to-be announced redundancies. The company is publicly listed. Had I been an investor, this potentially market-sensitive information could have been used to my advantage. It was not for my ears. Nor was it for anyone else’s.
Rule # 2: Never, ever talk business in the restrooms. If you have to, at least first check that the cubicles are vacant and that you are alone.
Mistake 3: Talking business on public transport.
With the proliferation of iPhones and Androids, we can take phone calls anywhere. Boundaries are blurred. But discretion is still required.
Waiting on the train platform this last week at one of the busiest stations in my city, I easily overheard a woman talking to her lawyer or realtor. From the brochure in her hand, it was clear of the address of the property she was selling and the reserve amount for the property ahead of an auction this week. Had I been in the market that would be juicy information for me to know.
Rule # 3: Never, ever openly discuss business on public transport. You never know who’s on the train platform or riding the same bus with you. Call back when you are in a more secure environment.
Mistake 4: Talking business in a café.
I often conduct meetings in cafés. But I often check whether the people I am dealing with are comfortable given who may be nearby. I also monitor the volume of our conversation and the ambient noise around us.
Not so with the table next to me earlier in the week. I watched a presentation for a financial services company – logo and all. From what I could tell, it was an agency Account Manager practising before seeing their client. But I clearly overheard how a test market of a product had gone; and then overheard about the suggested timetable for roll out nationally. The category is very competitive and lucrative. Had I been working for a competitor or its advertising agency whose offices are known to be nearby – I would have loved to have known this.
Rule # 4: Never, ever talk sensitive business in a café. Check on the volume around you and park the key information for later.
Mistake 5: Talking business hands-free in a traffic jam.
Bluetooth can be a fantastic benefit for hands free driving. But it also has its downside. 2 weeks ago I heard a conversation while stuck in peak-hour traffic emanating from the convertible next to my car – with its roof down.
When we are travelling at speed this talking business on the phone is fine. But when you are stuck in traffic, be very careful about the volume your hands-free is set to. You never know who is next to you.
Rule # 5: Never, ever talk at high volume when stationary in traffic. You may think you have a sound proof car, but reality is you don’t. Test how sound-proof your vehicle really is. When stationary, wind up your windows and turn down the volume.
David Ogilvy’s advice may be decades old. But his wise and discrete ways hold as much sway today as they did years ago.
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