The Bad Reputation: How to Fix It.
By Chelse Benham
“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation
for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington
The “bad” reputation is a subjective matter. It is how people see you and it may
not reflect how you see yourself. Although a bad reputation may originate from a
mean-spirited rumor or be valid, it is nonetheless real, at least for the people that
hold that perception of you. This negative impression may prevent career
success and create extra hardships in the workplace. Once you become aware
that you may be saddled with a bad reputation, it is wise to evaluate the validity
of the reputation.
Assess if there is any legitimacy to the reputation. Career experts suggest that a
person may obtain a better understanding of his/her negative reputation by
seeking a second and third party opinion. However, experts say it is prudent to
seek the confidences of people you trust and who will be honest without being
hurtful. Confide in people who do not have an ulterior motive to tear you down or
misrepresent your interests.
If others reliably confirm the negative perception, it is time to look at your “toxic
traits” that may be feeding this harmful image.
According to authors, Dr. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella, in their book,
“Put Your Best Foot Forward” there are five categories of behavior they dubbed
“toxic traits” that can damage a reputation. They are:
• Offensive physical acts
• Unappealing word usage
• Aggressive behavior
• Insensitive communication
Miscommunication can be an immediate culprit. With e-mail so widely used and
relied upon, miscommunication can be had without a person even knowing it. Dr.
Dora Saavedra, associate professor in the Department of Communications at
The University of Texas-Pan American, has some “golden rules” for better
communication. According to Saavedra, speaking goes hand-in-hand with
thinking. She offers these gems of advice:
Speak with authority not condescendingly.
Speak with politeness without being insincere.
Speak with forethought instead of blurting out.
Speak with honesty, but not with cruelty.
Speak with care instead of indifference.
In a conflict, speak with professionalism, not with emotions.
Speak with respect for others, not with disregard for their dignity.
Speak with the aim of collaboration, not competition.
Criticize privately; praise publicly.
Speak smarter not wordier.
Perhaps, the best way to sum up Saavedra’s advice would be to think before you
speak to minimize miscommunication from the start. Being a good communicator
is vital for career success and all interpersonal relationships. Getting caught in an
unpleasant communication exchange can lead to destructive fallout, bruised
egos and rancor.
Communication is only one facet of interacting with others. Entire personas can
be formed within the time it takes to form a first impression. Poor hygiene,
sloppiness and poor posture all affect the overall appearance and speak volumes
about someone. Although, a shoddy appearance can and most certainly does
leave unfavorable impressions with others, it does not necessarily encumber
someone’s reputation, unless that person is outré – completely baulking social
It is bad behavior that has the most damaging affect on someone’s reputation
say career experts. Rudeness, thoughtlessness, selfishness and flakiness are all
bad behaviors. They diminish personal power that is hard to recover once lost.
Building a good reputation takes a long time to develop; a lifetime. Destroying a
reputation only requires a split second bad judgment. It is a balancing act to
juggle the way you come across to others and how they interpret that
interchange. What is worse is the time it takes to rebuild a reputation. Consider
Tanya Harding, who still conjures memories of gross misconduct and poor
Once a person is stigmatized with a bad reputation, how can s/he recover from
it? If that person can afford it, s/he could hire a press agent and buy “good”
press by donating enormous amounts money to a worthy cause or s/he could
use their fame to promote a commendable organization.
For most people, they are not wealthy nor are they famous. Neither option is
feasible or appropriate. Instead of “spinning” a new persona instantly, the
process of improving a bad reputation is whittled away at with consistent good
The EHow.com Web site offers valuable information for fixing a bad reputation in
its article, “How to Fix a Bad Reputation.” It states the following:
1. If you determine that you need to improve a personal attribute, make a
commitment to yourself to change your ways.
2. Apologize to employees, clients, co-workers or customers if you realize
that your behavior or words have hurt your professional relationship let
them know you will work hard to improve the situation.
3. Tell those around you that you're trying to improve. Others will be
impressed if you can admit to your own flaws, and they might have some
4. Perform one act every single day that counteracts your bad reputation.
5. If the bad reputation is not your fault, find out where it originates. Mention
the rumors in a direct, but conversational way: ‘Burt, I heard that some
folks think I am having an affair with Helen in graphics. I'm sure you know
there's no truth to the matter.’ Most gossipmongers will clam up if
Dimitrius and Mazzarella suggest that the cycle of change be thought of as a
“psychological waterwheel that will begin to turn if input is received from three
separate ports: your feelings, the actions of others or control over your actions.”
Any or all of these influences can affect behavior. A person’s behavior, the
authors point out, are under his/her direct and conscious control. That is perhaps
why it is so frustrating to think that control over reputation is to a large degree an
individual’s responsibility. S/he has no one to blame, but themselves.
It is one thing to say, “change your behavior” and it is another to actually change
the behavior. In other words, it is easier said than done. Habits die hard,
especially if you are not aware that you are doing them.
Dimitrius and Mazzarella isolate the birth of change to be in a person’s attitude.
Positive or negative attitudes determine the upward or downward spiraling effects
on reputation and ultimately, career success.
“A defeatist attitude results in tentative actions and negative responses, which
invite failure and downward spiral,” write Dimitrius and Mazzarella. “A positive
attitude spawns positive actions and responses and an upward spiral. Your
attitude will create a self-fulfilling prophecy of either success or failure.”
Begin with your attitude and let the change expand from there. Be consistent in
your efforts gradually turning the negative image into a positive one, but
remember the motivation behind the change must be based on sincerity. A
superficial wish to change will result in exactly that, a superficial display. People
will see through the behavior and grow more distrustful than before.
Perhaps the best rule to follow, is to be thoughtful of others from the beginning.
Do not create opportunities where your reputation may suffer the consequences.
Instead, guard your reputation as if your life depends on it.
“To gain a good reputation, endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” –