Woe The Digital Sale: Cleaning Up The Trash-Talking

Question from a media seller: In an industry where your reputation means everything, how can you abate the damage that someone else is inflicting on your personal brand via gossip and comments to others? When working closely with a "mean girl," how do you circumvent (i.e., avoid) the punitive nature of this person?

Jason says: Easy. You whisper about her in Spanish class and casually mention to the cheerleading captain how friendly she got with the baseball team after a wine cooler. Either that, or ignore it and figure others will see her for her true colors and sympathize with your plight. Since we're talking about the world of American business, however, it may take more careful planning. 

Fortunately, I haven't had to work for any manipulative trash-talkers firsthand (as far as I know), but I have come across a few of them in other departments, and I know how bleak this is for morale. I tend to think life is too short to bother with head games from a "mean girl." If you know your value and do good work, others will see that and your reputation will remain intact, especially if the person is generally known as a bully. If it is more than an annoyance and moves into the realm of abuse, then I would suggest changing your environment. However, I realize that in some instances, it may not be financially or otherwise feasible to change departments or leave the company. So what to do?



1.  Confront the mean girl (or guy) directly. Tell her that you are aware of the game and will expose these actions through the proper chain of command.

2.  Give the above a few weeks to see if there is a change in behavior.

3.  If you are still finding your number in the boys' locker room, go see that person's manager (whether it is your boss's boss or not). Tell them exactly what's happening and be prepared to give direct, tangible and documented examples.

4.  Get your resume ready. If the person in question is not disciplined and you don't see changed behavior, you'll want to be looking for another job in order to avoid them in the cafeteria.

OMG, Amy, I haven't seen you in, like, months, ya know? Please tell me you haven't, umm, ya know, like turned into a mean girl!

Amy says:  I haven't turned into a mean girl, but I do talk about you a lot.  I say all good things, of course.  But this question is making me reflect on my own behavior on both sides of this equation: the trash-talker and the trash-talker's target.  Maybe I have been a mean girl all along?

When you are a seller, I would say that your own personal brand is just as important as the media brand you are pitching.  Buyers have very long memories when it comes to sellers who have caused, intentionally or by accident, problems with a campaign or client -- or just did something that the buyer didn't like.  And we all know that each dissatisfied customer tells 10 people about her bad experience  -- so a seller's reputation at any agency can be tarnished in an instant by a disgruntled buyer with a captive audience at the coffee machine.  Hopefully it never gets to that. 

However, zealous sellers sometimes earn their reputations right away with boorish behavior and aggressive sales tactics.  Selling is about a relationship, and relationships are at least partly based on chemistry.  Be aware of and monitor how people react to you and your approach to selling.  If you sense something isn't clicking, address the issue head0on and ask for feedback for improvement.  The sting to your ego is fleeting, I assure you.

When it comes to internal reputation, the old adage of money talks is your saving grace.  As long as you are making your number, this co-worker trash talking should just be white noise for you.  But, if you ever have the opportunity to call them out on it, absolutely do so in a polite way.  I'm thinking at the staff meeting to review everyone's pipelines, make a self-deprecating joke about your supposed shortcoming that is making rounds on the grapevine, and the trash-talker will get the message loud and clear.

If you really can't make things work, make concessions as Jason suggested.  There is always another job, another agency to cover, another buyer to approach.  My philosophy has always been that great work speaks for itself.  And in this case, great work and hitting your goals will be louder than what any haters might say about you.  Me on the other hand, I'm going to Google/Bing/Ask myself right now and see how my reputation is doing.

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