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The Importance of Discretion: A Cautionary Tale

Categories: Workplace Etiquette

Sometimes the things I see and hear while traveling on business seem too surreal to be true. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with this story from my travels… This really happened.

I had just delivered a business etiquette training program for new hires at a major pharmaceutical company. This group of 10 new employees had previously gone through two weeks of in-depth sales training. I was the last session on their schedule.

One male millennial attendee in my class looked distressed throughout the entire morning. He kept his eyes on his desk and barely seemed to be paying attention. When we broke for lunch, I approached Adam, and asked him if something was on his mind.

“I think I’m going to get fired,” he whispered, red-faced. “Talk about an etiquette blunder.”
I urged him to tell me what had happened.

On the last day of Adam’s sales training, the curriculum consisted of role-playing exercises that would be videotaped and critiqued in front of the management team. Tensions were running high among the participants and nerves were on edge, including with Adam. He took a bathroom break right before being videotaped.

This new hire told me that he thought there was time for a quick cell phone call to his girlfriend, to share how tedious the sales training day had been. After using the men’s room, he hung out a little longer by the sink to make his call. He loudly commiserated with her, complaining about the entire day: “Hey, babe. I’m calling from my sales training day. It’s so painful!” But, Adam wasn’t done venting. He sadly told me that the next thing he said was, “Whoever put this day together has no clue how to do good training.”

I cringed, waiting for the shoe to fall. Sure enough, Adam said as he was standing at the sink, the door to the stall opened and out walked his direct superior, the Vice President of Sales. Adam said a quick hello and then hurried out of there.

The moral of this terrible tale? Watch what you say and do everywhere in the workplace, even the bathroom.

Here are 2 dos and don’ts to ensure you are the consummate professional:

1. Be careful what you say anywhere in your office or building. You don’t know who might be standing right outside your door, right around the bend, or in the next stall. Do not refer to your managers, employers, or the company itself, by any derogatory labels, nicknames, or even joking names.

2. Watch your attitude along with your mouth! If you feel resentful of company policies or management, and find yourself playing the “blame game” or finger pointing, perhaps it’s time to take a crash course in personal and professional accountability – or shift careers.

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