The one thing that hurts your reputation the most

It was Friday night. A group of us had gotten together after the conference to connect over dinner in San Francisco. I had gone to the conference with a friend and as soon as we said our goodbyes to the other attendees after dinner, I asked him a question that had been bugging me for the greater part of the night.

I asked:

“Earlier when we were all talking about X, how come you pretended to know about it when you didn’t and started giving advice? Couldn’t you just have told them that you didn’t know enough to comment?

He had lied, multiple times during the conversations that happened that night about knowing a topic he knew nothing about. Worse, people were convinced of his lie; people had genuinely asked him for advice, advice he wasn’t qualified to give.

He responded:

Yeah, I’m not sure to be honest. I just kind of froze and didn’t want to look weak or anything so I just went along with it. No worries though, I’ll go home and learn about it so I’ll be better prepared the next time.

When you say those kind of words and take that kind of stance, you shirk responsibility. Responsibility for intentionally misleading people, responsibility for your reputation and responsibility for your self-growth.

It sounds like like a simple mistake; one that could be overlooked, but the consequences are much more deeper than imagined.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re subconciouly telling your brain that you already know the answer, that there’s no need for further research because you’ve already understood the topic enough to advise people on it. When your brain is being reinforced with the positive signals given by people who praise you because they think you know the answer, there’s no further motivation to continue learning. There’s no more reason to seek out the correct answer. Claiming to research more into the topic afterwards at that point is at most an empty promise probably used to placate any lingering feelings of self-guilt.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re causing harm to the very people asking you for advice. You’re taking their sincerity for granted and throwing it on the ground before trampling over it. You’re taking their respect for you and betraying their goodwill towards you. You’re risking their wellbeing, their family’s wellbeing and their company’s wellbeing by giving them advice that you’re unqualified to give, which come worse case scenario, might cause them to lose everything they’ve worked for. All for the sake of satisfying your ego.

The very moment you claim knowledge that’s not yours, you’re destroying the trust that others have placed in you. You’re destroying the reputation you’ve built. People are smart; they’re observant. When there comes a day that they realize you’ve been lying to them, giving them advice you’re not qualified to give, they’re going to blame you for wasting their time and the consequences from having listened to your advice. They’re going to lose trust in you and at that point, your reputation and any reputation you might’ve initially gained from pretending to know will have all washed down the drain, disintegrated into nothingness.

When you pretend you’re knowledgeable in a topic you’re not, you’re hurting the very people who’ve confided in you for advice, who’ve given you their trust and betraying that very trust. You’re damaging your reputation and allowing yourself to be possibly branded as a liar who’s naive, insecure and lacking in self-confidence to not even have the courage to admit not knowing something. You’re limiting your self-growth and potential to learn more, to be more educated and well-versed in a multitude of topics.

It sounds like like a simple mistake; one that could be overlooked, but the consequences are much more deeper than imagined. There’s never any reason to lie and pretend to know something that you don’t. When you pretend that you know something, you’re just being irresponsible.

About the author

Jon Lee

I travel the world in search of lessons worth sharing. Addicted to culture shock and transparency. Currently working on heeyy and duuck.

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