Protect Your Professional Reputation From Character Assassins

August 29, 2016

professional reputation

“That’s not true,” you say, when your client repeats something he’s heard that calls your professional reputation into question.

“I know that, but the story has traction. I’m getting heat from my partners for using you.”

“But you know it’s not true,” you insist.

“I know. I’m sorry, but my partners are worried the rumors swirling around you could damage our project. We can’t afford that. Do yourself a favor and cut the legs off these stories,  fast.”

Just like that, you learn that your long-term client is pulling the plug on his company’s account. His call is only the first.

Has a character assassin trashed your professional reputation? If so, the words American boxer Joe Louis made famous ring true: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” Like it or not, you’re in the ring.  You need to understand how character assassins operate, the traps you need to avoid or escape, and what you can do fight back and win.

How character assassins operate

Character assassins work your connections until they’ve trashed your professional reputation. Perhaps they already know the key players in your industry or marketplace. They may pull up your LinkedIn account, systematically seek out each of your connections, and ruthlessly slander you with defamatory half-truths until no one knows whether or not to believe what they used to think about you. Like other assassins, character assassins succeed in part because they lack remorse, and thus don’t telegraph their deceit to others.

You can’t ignore an assassin

If you’re an assassin’s target, you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. No one likes to think, hear or believe negative stories about themselves.  You try to ignore the stories, hoping they’ll grow stale or fade away. Unfortunately, reputation slander takes on a life of its own, and the longer you wait, the more the mud slung hardens into concrete.

Take heart when others call you

If you’re an assassin’s target, you may want to slink away and hide in a closet when others call you and relay the disparaging stories they’ve heard. Instead, take heart. These connections value you enough to let you know what you’re dealing with, and to check out your side rather than accepting the stories wholesale.

These calls represent three opportunities – to counter the slander, to ask those who call you to “have your back” if they hear anyone else believing or passing these stories on, and to trace who they’ve heard the rumors from. Use these opportunities.

Trace the tales

If you want to cut off a snake’s head, you have to know who the snake is and where he lives. If your connections forward you defaming texts or posts, trace the phone numbers through a reverse lookup directory or contact the Internet service provider—who may help you if you can prove abuse. Follow each tale until you find the head.

Blow them out of the water

In my book, Beating the Workplace Bully, I tell the story of a woman targeted by a character assassin. Although she initially dreaded the upcoming speech she’d been scheduled to give at an industry function, she decided to douse the many brushfires her assassin had started—with a lightning bolt her own. Standing at the podium in front of many who now turned a cold shoulder toward her at business functions, she outlined how she’d grown her career. She then detailed the defamation of her character and professionalism during recent months. As the attendees listened, she concluded with, “This is the greatest test of courage I’ve ever faced. To stand before you and let you know I almost gave up. But I am here. I stand before you and I stand on my record.”  She received a standing ovation.

Have you been targeted? You can win.

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Your professional image and reputation are worth protecting, and your word is your bond. Learn how to communicate effectively to remove all doubt—even when you're under attack.

About The Author

Dr. Lynne Curry, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, founded The Growth Company, Inc., a management consulting, training, human resources and organizational strategy firm. Curry has provided more than 55,000 consulting projects to more than 3,700 organizations. She is the author of Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM, 2016.

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