Reputations: Hard to Build, Easy to Destroy

Building a good reputation takes hard work. It takes time to demonstrate integrity and develop solid relationships.

It's also vital to establish trust, but "these days, people aren't all that willing to trust," says Elizabeth Waterman, PsyD, of Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California. "We want to build relationships that we know are reliable and respectable." Our understanding of a person's character helps us determine if a relationship meets these criteria, and "this is why a reputation is so important," says Waterman.

Having a good reputation means that you are known as a person who does the right thing whether someone is looking or not, says Laurie Puhn, JD, author of Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In. And as difficult as a good reputation is to establish, it can be tarnished in a flash by a single misstep on your part or when another person spreads false information about you.

Reputation Rehab

Unfortunately, "It can take just one experience to ruin your reputation, just one time for a person to do the wrong thing and blow it," Puhn says.

Your reputation can also be soiled when someone else maligns you. "Some people do this on purpose because competition is tough out there," says Waterman. "It's not uncommon for individuals and companies to focus negative attention on someone else." If your good reputation does get maligned, through your mistakes or another's malice, there are steps you can take to get it back on track:

  • If you did trip up, admit it publicly before those who have placed their trust in you have a chance to hear it elsewhere. "Put it out there," Waterman says. "Own up to it and you will be more credible for having done so."

  • Say you're sorry. "Apologize if you have done something wrong," Waterman says. "And then do the work that you say you are going to do."

  • Move forward. Try to create some positive buzz about your work, Waterman advises.

  • Once you acknowledge that you've made a mistake and are at fault, create a plan to prevent the same mistake from happening again, Puhn recommends. "Resolve to change your behavior," she says. "You can restore a good reputation, but you have to come up with a plan for the future so it won't happen again."

  • If false statements are being made about you, get the truth out there, Waterman says. "Tell people that you know certain information is out there but that this information doesn't represent what happened," she says. "Tell people, 'Here is what really happened.' And always give people all the information."

  • Above all, cherish your reputation and make every effort to protect it. "Your reputation arrives in the room before you get there," Puhn says. "So manage it well."

Laurie Puhn, JD, and Elizabeth Waterman, PsyD, reviewed this article.