Second Hand Opinions

I’ve heard a lot of things about a lot of people that weren’t exactly true. I’ve heard even more things about myself that weren’t at all true. 

People like to talk and an absence of facts is no reason to keep most people from talking. Some people just don’t hit it off. Something about a person turns them off and then they share that “fact” with someone else and it takes off from there. 

That’s why it’s important that you don’t use second hand opinions to make your first impressions. Never decide on a person’s character based on the opinions of other people. 

Several years ago a rumor started spreading around my workplace that I had a severe drinking problem. I apparently was pretty much hammered all the time. I heard about it from a few people and mostly laughed. It was easy to ignore because in all the time I had worked there I had maybe started 3 or 4 beers but never finished one. 

My wife and I had quit drinking alcohol many years before when someone very close to us was struggling with drugs and alcohol. Their counselor had recommended to us that we quit as a way of supporting the person and we did. Before you start thinking we made any great sacrifice you should know that at that time I could polish off a case of beer in maybe a few months. We weren’t exactly big drinkers. It was not a big deal to us to quit but it did send a powerful message to the person we were supporting. We still don’t drink today. 

So I wasn’t all that concerned with the rumor; it was so far off base that it was laughable. Except that some people believed it. After all this time and despite vast evidence to the contrary, some people still do. 

I was forced to try and put a stop to it when a senior person in the company “confided” to a customer, who was a long-time friend of mine, that I had a real problem with alcohol. It was somehow less funny when the rumor got out into the wild where it could take on a life of it’s own. 

But even then it’s was only my reputation they were talking about…not my character. I’m far more concerned about my character than my reputation because my character is who I really am, my reputation is only who people think I am. 

That’s why when I talk with one of my mentors I have never asked about what other people may think of me. I do however always ask if they see me living my values because my character is value based. 

How do you form opinions about other people? Do you listen to rumors or do you listen and watch the person for yourself? Do you let other people tell you what to think of someone or do you decide for yourself, based on YOUR experience with that person? 

Second hand opinions are very often inaccurate. If you doubt that I’d encourage you to think about all the things that people “know” about you that just ain’t so. Those people are forming opinions about you with a distorted view of who you are. 

I’ll bet you’re not exactly happy about that. So don’t do the same thing to other people. Withhold any judgment until you have firsthand information. Only then can you make a “self informed” assessment of that person’s true character. 

It’s one of those “do unto others” things. It’s also one of those things that separate an Authentic Leader from someone pretending to be a leader. Don’t pretend, never form your “own” opinion about someone with somebody else’s “facts.”

Are You Too Concerned With Your Reputation?

I played hockey from about the time I could walk up until… well I’d play now if I could find the time and a sheet of ice. I played with a friend from Peewees right through high school. He was quite the character, whenever he would score a goal, even at 12 years old, he would yell bingo. So we called him Bingo.

We still call him Bingo today. Being a “character” tends to stay with you. So does actually having character. But only having character truly defines you. 

Lots of people, I’d say most people, are far more concerned with their reputation than they are their character. That’s a mistake. 

Here’s why.

Have you ever heard it said of someone “their reputation precedes them?” That’s often considered a compliment. Then when you meet them you’re surprised that they are not at all what you expected. It turned out their reputation was more mirage than fact. It’s not that their reputation was wrong, it was simply a representation of “what” people think they do, not “who” they are. 

Remember this, your reputation may precede you but your character is always attached to you. 

Your reputation can be more valuable than money, there’s no question about that. I suppose that’s why people focus so much on their reputation. What they don’t realize is that their reputation is built upon the foundation of their character. 

The words they speak and the actions they take come straight out of their character. Reputation is who people think you are, character is who you really are. You may be able to hide behind a good reputation for a while but your true character will eventually show itself.

People of good character have no need to hide any part of their life. They take care of their character and their reputation takes care of itself. Your character is reflective of the core values you hold. 

Character is within you. It is even more important than other factors like race, religion, age, and personality in determining how you react during life’s tougher circumstances. Your experiences in life may influence the character traits you have—but it is your character itself that determines how you act.

People can “know” your reputation without really knowing you. Character traits like integrity, courage, honesty, loyalty, and perseverance can only be seen by those who truly want to know you. 

Even people of good character can have a less than stellar reputation because other people’s opinions of you and their biases for you and against you can shape your reputation. That’s how reputations become a mirage, they are often made of opinions. Character is based upon actions.

So which are you more concerned with…your reputation or your character? Focus on the long term by focusing on your character. Your character will eventually build a solid reputation made from facts, not opinions. 

Your Reputation is Priceless

The lesson on the importance of reputation is a lesson that everyone learns over time. Those who can learn it at the expense of someone else tend to be the most successful people, regardless of their chosen career. 

 

But few people actually learn it at the expense of someone else. They see the consequences of other people damaging their reputation but never consider the frailty of their own. So they learn at their own expense when they do something similar. It is then that they also discover that the cost is often huge. 

 

Your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business and in life. It can unlock doors not even seen by some people. It can also lock those doors tighter than Fort Knox. 


We live in a time where everything is recorded and documented forever. 

 

It’s a mistake to believe that because you didn’t post something to Social Media that no one else would either. It’s become nearly impossible to even walk to your car without being caught on a nearby camera. The words and images you post are forever. They might be hilarious after a half dozen beers but could turn deadly serious the next morning. 

 

You must realize that the friendly Human Resource person you’re interviewing with tomorrow is very likely to be looking at your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages today. You would never tattoo your face with the words “I’m a drunk” on your forehead because that could be seen by everyone. But when you post the pictures of your latest drunk-fest online it’s not much different.

 

That kind of post might only offend one person but if it’s the wrong one then that’s a problem. I know it’s all in fun but if it comes at the expense of your reputation is it worth it? Keep the pictures on your phone and show them off privately. Remember, even texting them to friends means you no longer have full control of your reputation. Always be careful.

 

The fact that your reputation is priceless is best learned before you lose it. Despite what others may tell you I do believe that even a badly battered reputation can be restored. It’s just that the more damaged it is the longer it takes to repair it. A moment or two of carelessness could potentially take years to reverse. 


A slip of the tongue or one ill conceived mouse click can have long lasting ramifications. Think BEFORE you say it, think twice BEFORE you hit post and never ever, not even for a moment, lose awareness of the value of an honorable reputation.

Your Reputation Precedes You

I think I’ve written before about the fact that I attended a Military High School. It would be a bit of an understatement (okay, a huge understatement) to say that they took their discipline very seriously there. When a student messed up they paid a hefty price. Discipline came quickly and it was, at least in my opinion, often disproportionate when compared to the offense. 

 

But it worked. 

 

In my Freshman and Sophomore years I decided to “test” the system. Though the rules were very clear regarding attendance I decided to skip a class or two, well maybe three, here and there. I was caught every time and the punishment grew with each infraction. After my third attempt to beat the system I found myself in detention everyday after school for a month. 

 

I found a better way to beat the system in my Sophomore year but sadly, it wasn’t really good enough to get away with it. I fought the law and the law won. Once again I spent the last month of the school year in detention everyday after classes had ended.

 

By my Junior year I had learned my lesson. I was promoted to officer which was considered a big accomplishment for a Junior and I didn’t even consider skipping a class.

 

So imagine my surprise when I was called to the Principal’s office with about a month left in the school year and told I was being given detention for the rest of the semester. I protested and was told they “knew” I was skipping classes but had obviously finally figured out a way to get away with it. 

 

I was offered “amnesty” if I spilled the beans on how to get past their vaunted attendance process. Since I wasn’t skipping classes and hadn’t figured out how to beat the system I couldn’t  “accept” the amnesty. 

 

So off to detention I went. The good news is that since I was the only officer in detention I was now in charge of the other cadets in detention. Since I was wrongly accused and darn unhappy about it those poor souls probably had the worst time in detention in the history of detention. To be sure it wasn’t as brutal as flying on United Airlines but it was pretty rough. Such is life at a military school. 

 

That was the year when I learned about the concept of “your reputation precedes you.” 

 

In the business world you are what people think you are. Now I wouldn’t advise stressing over that too much but you do need to realize that it impacts how people perceive you. Their perception of you will change how you’re treated, whether or not you’re trusted, and whether or not you’re considered for advancement.

 

Now here’s the hard part that you may not like to hear; you earn your reputation. Even if you’re certain they are wrong about you that misperception likely came from somewhere. You can’t simply dismiss it without considering if there is any hint of truth to it. 

 

While it may not have been easy for me to accept at the time people thought I skipped classes because I was known to skip classes. The fact that I wasn’t skipping classes didn’t change the fact that I had. I earned that reputation. 


You’re creating history everyday…it’s your history. It’s also your responsibility to make it a history that you can be proud of. Never blame others for what they think of you without considering your role in creating that perception. 

 

By the way, despite perfect attendance in my Senior year I spent my final month of High School in detention after school. Once again I was in charge of the younger and lower ranking cadets. This time however I tried to help the cadets understand the benefits of conforming to requirements. I helped them grow, I probably didn’t do a very good job of it but I tried to help them become leaders. 


It was part of my effort to change some perceptions about me and it also happened to be the right thing to do. 

Your Reputation Precedes You

I try not to prejudge people. I do my best not to listen to gossip about people and I really, really try not to form an opinion about someone based on somebody else’s experience with the person. 

I absolutely hate it when someone else forms an opinion about me based on something they “heard” from somebody else. They have never met me but they think they know me. I’d be willing to bet that you don’t like that either. 

Yet it happens every day. It happens because like it or not, your reputation precedes you. 

Everything you do, everything you say, every commitment you keep and every one you don’t, they all count. They all matter! They all build up or tear down your reputation. 

That might not be fair, it might not be right, but that’s the way it is. That’s good news for some people and terrible news for others.

You have a credibility bank, it’s an incredibly valuable asset yet many people seldom even think about checking their bank statement. Every time you do what you say you will you make a small deposit into your credibility bank. Every time you fail to keep a commitment you make a very large withdrawal from your bank. That might not be fair either but that too is just how it goes.

When you gossip about people you’re actually making a withdrawal from your credibility bank. The surprising thing is that your hurting your reputation with the very person you’re gossiping with. Always keep this interesting fact in mind: the person you’re gossiping with today will likely be gossiping about you tomorrow. 

When your reputation includes being a gossip then your credibility bank takes a big hit. 

Sometimes we hate saying no so much that we say yes to doing something that we know darn well we either won’t or can’t do. That hurts your credibility. You can have no finer reputation than that of a person whose word is known as gold. When you say you’re going to do something then do it or say no right up front. A courageous no will beat a meek and insincere yes every time.

You can’t control whether or not people talk about you behind your back. You also can’t control what they say so don’t waste a lot of time worrying about it. Instead work to build a strong reputation and know that your efforts will result in a credibility bank loaded with positive examples of you being a person known as a trusted resource who can be counted on no matter what! 

That’s the kind of reputation that you want to precede you!