I get a lot of anonymous emails. While I am grateful for every opinion and comment, it’s very difficult to write about each one. It would unfairly spam my subscribers, and that’s a no-go zone for me. That’s why we banned ads! That acknowledged, I received an e-mail from a reader with regard to when attorneys, our clients, use friendship as a tactic. This is a rare phenomenon that I’ve had more than one veteran reporter warn me about, but never had the misfortune of experiencing it myself. The warning goes something like this: Be a little tight lipped about what you’re making, doing, and your interactions with other reporters, because that same person who’s smiling at you and pretending to be your friend can take what you say and blow it out of proportion or cause you trouble. This can happen in any setting with any mix of people, so be mindful of the general principle of cautiousness.
Remember that part of being a professional is knowing where the boundaries lie. Lawyers deal with these kinds of difficult questions all the time; what is okay to share, what is off limits. If you’re not too sure whether something is “safe to share,” it’s best to not share in that moment and seek out a friend, advisory opinion, or mentor to get some perspective on the issue.
As a quick example, I saw this done to an interpreter years ago. He was ordered to do some kind of Sicilian dialect. Turns out that the witness was some other Sicilian dialect. Off the record, he tried his best to professionally explain the issue. And the more he did, the more the attorney prepared to go on the record and explain that the interpreter was “translating incorrectly.” This guy was doing everything right, and he was still about to get thrown under the bus because he was giving the information to someone who had made up their mind against him. Perhaps by divine intervention, the witness became ill, and we adjourned.
But we can’t count on divine intervention. What can we learn? We cannot go through our professional lives afraid that someone will twist the truth to hurt us. That’s no way to live. But the hard truth is that if you have any reservations about sharing a comment, it can only protect you to trust your gut and say nothing.
A brilliant attorney told me years ago: No one can complain if you’re silent. I have great reservations about demanding reporters, people already relegated to the silent role, be quiet. Most of the time we need to be out there educating our clients and being active in marketing ourselves and our profession. But new people need to know the pitfalls so that they can avoid them and have bigger, better, brighter careers. So do us all a favor. If you see a newbie oversharing, politely caution them so that they have a chance to take your advice. Regardless of whether they take the advice, it’s meant well, and it might just save them from having a bad day.