Loose Lips Sink Ships

Relationships take such a long time to forge by building trust and respect and they can be ruined very quickly by saying something without thinking first and being selfish. But sometimes, because we focus so much on the external relationships with the customer, we forget that internal relationships are just as important.

I had a horrendous experience many years ago when I just could not keep my mouth shut and wanted to demonstrate I knew something that someone else did not. Call it ego, selfishness or lack of consideration, perhaps a combination of all three, but it resulted in a catastrophic set of circumstances for a number of people.

I was gathered with some of my peers at a prestigious charity event with our major customer. My boss and I and one of my colleagues were having a meeting and then a surprise was sprung on me. I was told that my colleague would be moving from his current location in Europe to somewhere 10,000 miles away, and would I be interested in moving to replace him.

I was intrigued and excited. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the move, but it would still be  looking after our major customer with many major markets and larger ones than I was looking after at the time. I needed to think about it. So I left the meeting mulling it over, having been sworn to secrecy.

Within a few minutes I came across another colleague of mine who reported to the guy who was moving. We chatted about the event and how it was going and some of our business challenges. I’m still not sure why I did it, but a combination of wanting to share something to demonstrate I knew something she didn’t, and prove my value, resulted in me sharing with her the potential move. She burst into tears. I didn’t understand why.

A few weeks later, I was told I was no longer being considered for the move and shortly afterwards it was announced that the lady who broke down and cried would be getting the role. You see, by breaking the confidence and sharing something I shouldn’t have, I had unwittingly told someone that they had been overlooked for the job.

I had upset a colleague, embarrassed my manager, and my senior management simply by not keeping my mouth shut. In addition, I forced a change that had not been planned at the time. In short, I had damaged several important relationships without thinking.

Although I recovered from the situation, I was probably fortunate to do so as the repercussions had been enormous. However, two key relationships remained scarred permanently.

What was unfortunate was that it was never really explained to me what I had done. I had to work it out for myself. What I needed was some healthy good natured confrontation to point out the error of my ways and ensure I learnt from it.

I did, however, learn a few lessons from this, and a few rules have stuck with me.

Think before you speak

It’s so easy when we have news to want to gossip and share that we know something that someone else doesn’t. But, we need to be aware of the impact that may have on others and think it through first.

Without realizing, my “loose lips” offended and hurt someone I worked with closely.

Sharing a secret does not necessarily build relationships

Sharing a secret is one way of getting to build a relationship since the parties have something in common. But, it can backfire, so think through the implications thoroughly.

Don’t share information that you have been asked not too

If you are trusted with a confidence, there is a good reason, so don’t break it. Like gossip, it’s so easy to want to share something, in spite of being told not too, so we are seen as in the know

How many times has someone said to you, ‘”look don’t tell anyone else, but…” Once that sentence has been uttered you can be fairly sure that others already know.

Furthermore, If you do share, you risk damaging the relationships with the people you are sharing with. Why? Because they will wonder what you share with others, they thought were their secrets.

Confrontation is sometimes required

Someone should have spoken to me about this and explained what I had done and what the the repercussions were, instead of me finding out myself. Yes, I was over 21 and should have known, but I didn’t.

It would have been a salient lesson and could have been used as a positive learning experience. Instead I was handed a punitive lesson by not being able to attend a major event the following year but not being told why. This seemed petty and counter-productive versus being put on the carpet lectured and explained why I had made such a major mistake.

In the end, it was a lesson well learned and it reminded me of the slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships” which was used during World War II as part of a general campaign of propaganda in America to remind people to avoid speaking of ship movements as if overheard by covert enemy agents it may allow the enemy to intercept and destroy the ships. 

I still get chills when I think about this tale and how stupid I was. We are sometimes scarred far more than others believe they were. So, I think twice now before I break confidences and keep my mouth shut more often. Relationships are important and should be valued and not put in jeopardy by “Loose Lips.” 

About the Author:

I am the customer relationship mentor, who helps those responsible for their company’s most important customers, to build and maintain their customer relationships and keep them happy, so that they can protect & grow their business.

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