Impressions matter, and a simple fact of the connection economy is that someone’s first impression of you will probably be formed in your absence. We know this with mathematical certainty.
That’s because reputation spawns from gossip, and gossip can’t be stopped. Whether they admit it or not, people love gossip.
As Professor Hobart W. Williams writes in his paper Gossip and Reputation, gossip is as important a social tool for humans as nit-picking is for apes: “Gossip is not about information. It is not about accurate portrayal of the people and events discussed. It is about connecting the two people sharing a story. Emotional coordination in gossip serves a relationship-building function similar to grooming between primates”.
That’s all well and good for the storytellers, but what about you? How can you ensure they are telling the story you want them to tell?
The most obvious solution might seem to be finding a way to destroy a bad reputation. I think that’s terribly optimistic at best, and dangerous at worst.
Reputations are powerful beasts; sticky and stoic, they’re unlikely to collapse just because you’re pulling at the edges. Some people never realise this, so they fight and fight until they collapse themselves. Others are perceived as being defensive over their reputation, which only serves to suggest to the gossipers that they were right all along.
Therein lies the answer.
Reputation is perception, not reality. But if you live the reality by which you want to be defined, and you do so openly, and honestly, perception and reality become intertwined.
Richard Branson. Angela Merkel. Elon Musk. Angelina Jolie. They are just a few examples of this principal in effect.
It can’t be gamed. You can’t simply tell others who you think you are and expect them to believe you. You must work hard, stay true, and let the rest come. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is all that matters.
And when reality isn’t enough to stop gossipers from spewing vile rumours out of jealousy or pettiness – and those times will come – cling tight to the truth, and be proud.