Who’s Listening? (It May Not Be Who You Want)

Like many people, one of the places I’m most productive is when I’m on a train (indeed, I’m writing this whilst travelling from Leeds to London). To boost that productivity and avoid distractions, I always choose to sit in the Quiet Coach (although quiet isn’t always guaranteed – but that’s a rant for another occasion).

However, a lot of people don’t. Many prefer to sit in carriages where they’re free to have a chinwag with their friends and colleagues, or even complete strangers.

There’s no problem in that…unless you forget the fact that pretty much everyone within a 15ft radius can hear what you’re saying. And depending on what you’re saying, that could be bad for your personal brand.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

Many, many moons ago I bumped into a friend at Kings Cross just as we were about to board the same train. So instead of sitting in the Quiet Coach, I joined her. We ended up sitting next to each other at a table, with two complete strangers sitting opposite.

I knew she’d recently been for an interview so asked how it had gone. She told me, with her voice at a very low volume, about the guy who’d interviewed her – what he’d said, how he’d acted and, to sum it all up, what a complete and utter twonk he was. (Not her exact words, but you get the drift.) She said she’d never work for him in a month of Sundays.

As she spoke, I noticed the people in the seats opposite started nudging each other. Then they began scribbling notes on a scrap of paper and sliding it to each other to read – like we did in school when we didn’t want the teacher to see.

My friend noticed too and eventually asked them about it. It turned out they worked for the company in question and, even though my friend hadn’t said its name – nor the name of the person interviewing her – they’d twigged who she was talking about.

She was mortified. (Although it turned out OK, as they agreed he was indeed a complete and utter twonk and she’d had a lucky escape.)

It’s not always a bad thing to be overheard though.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

I recently delivered a keynote session on personal branding at a business school and was chatting to a few of the attendees afterwards. One was a young man who wanted to share a recent experience to illustrate how his own personal brand had worked in his favour.

He said he’d been on a train and had asked the person sitting next to him to watch his laptop while he went to get a drink. When he returned, they got talking and during the conversation he mentioned he was training to be an accountant – along with his thoughts on why that was the career path for him and what he wanted to achieve.

At the end of the journey a passenger who had been sitting nearby (but hadn’t spoken to him until that point) passed him her business card. She said she’d heard what he’d said and liked his attitude, so told him to give her a call. Long story short, he had an interview and ended up with his first accountancy job.

So what does this mean for you?

I tell people time and again that people are picking up clues to your brand ALL THE TIME – even when you think you’re just minding your own business, chatting to a mate on a train.

You don’t have to get paranoid and button your lip completely. But you do want to be conscious of who’s listening in and what impression they might form of you as a result of what they hear.

So, if you are going to chat on the train – or anywhere else for that matter – use it to your advantage, think about what you’re saying and put your best personal brand foot forward. (Just DON’T do it in the Quiet Coach!)

Have you ever been overheard to your detriment or your benefit? What do you think when you overhear others and form your impression of them? I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with a comment below please.

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

4 responses to “Who’s Listening? (It May Not Be Who You Want)”

  1. Helen says:

    Hi Jennifer, I totally agree. The ladies is also a place to be mindful. I was on a training course and while in the ladies 2 attendees were verbally annihilating a colleague. Luckily for them and their colleague, I was not the said colleague in the toilet between theirs.

    I always adopt the consideration, not to say anything I would share in an open room.

  2. Meg Burton says:

    I experienced this recently Jennifer where an employee voiced her frustration over been asked to do something by her boss ‘as though she hadn’t got anything better to do’ forgetting that an external person was sat there in the office and the work was linked to something they were doing with the business. ‘Awkward’ especially when the consultant asked her if she would like any help with it.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I love the way the consultant offered to help. That’s just the sort of subtle comeuppance that appeals to me!

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