As Warren Buffett says: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

How many of us follow that advice? In our interactions with people, do we “think about that” and “do things differently”? We run into situations every day that test us. Our numerous interactions push and pull us in many directions. Sometimes our ego, or desire to be clever, funny or irreverent creates a desire for action before thinking.

Let me give a couple examples.

I am as impatient as anyone else. I hate getting in a line at the grocery store, the restaurant or at the stop light behind someone moving slowly. My immediate impression is to want to sigh, roll my eyes or figure out a way to move elsewhere (while still showing my disgust at them for slowing me down). When someone is talking, going on forever (it seems to me), I have the urge to say to them “Get to the point!”. I am sure my body language says that for me. I don’t like meetings where the purpose of the meeting is not clear and stated up front. What do I want to be my reputation then to be?

Think about all of the times you have wanted to respond to an e-mail in some sarcastic way. How about re-tweeting a tweet that is off color, unpopular or just slants for/against a particular person or cause? Who doesn’t repeat a story you heard (is it a true story or a rumor)? How does that fit the reputation you really want?

Ponder when we find ourselves talking to someone else after a particularly frustrating experience. We want to complain about, comment on, or be mean spirited about another person, perhaps because they “deserved it”. Maybe we want to try to be funny. Perhaps in putting down the other, we feel like we are doing the right thing or fitting in. It’s likely we just want to feel “in” and make them feel “out”.

Every one of these examples are about building ourselves up. Every one of these little moments can tarnish our reputation. If said to the wrong person, or about the wrong person, it can ruin our reputation.

How do I define my “good name”?

There are a number of simple arguments for wanting to make that comment, re-tweet or forward that e-mail. We think them all of the time. We might ask. “Am I being untrue to myself if I hold back”? “I have got to be me”. “People are too sensitive” “I am tired of being told to be politically correct”. ”

That is the point where you get to decide what your reputation is. Perhaps you wish your reputation to be the person who “always speaks their mind”. Maybe it is the very cautious, diplomatic or politically correct person. You could be the person who “everyone knows he/she is that way”, the open book. That may be you. But is that reputation serving you well? Always? Do you have to have only one reputation, usable in all situations?

I have learned to be a “thinker” in more situations as Warren Buffet notes above. I believe that has served me well. Because that “five minutes” could really save my reputation – and save what I truly want to be remembered as.



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