I remember in early days of my career, back in the late 90’s, I was trained to be mindful of business conversations in public. Working at a Big 5 public accounting firm, we were told that it is best not to speak about business in public. There were also guidelines given:
- If you must, keep your voice low so that others cannot hear what you say.
- Never mention client organization names, nor individual names. If you refer to someone, only use their first name, never the last. NEVER complain about a client in public.
- Do not use backpacks or briefcases with the company name on them. There is a risk of behavior that may reflect poorly on the organization. Additionally, if you happen to speak about a client, everyone will know where you work.
- Never talk about organizational strategy, plans or confidential details while in public.
I bring this up because as I write this, I am on an airplane, using earbuds. I arrived quite early for my flight and while waiting in the terminal, a gentleman near me began talking loud enough for everyone in the area to hear. He proceeded to take call after call, with clients and co-workers, all while speaking so loud we could not help but overhear his plans. Now, he and his colleague are seated behind me sharing every detail of their business plans. I can now tell you how they plan to have their teams address each market, what they plan to do to grow from $2.5 M to $17 M in revenue this year, what they are worried about, etc. I can tell you about the funds they are managing.
I remember early in my career I overheard a group of men at a restaurant sharing very detailed financial data over dinner. I politely walked over and whispered to one of the men that everyone was picking up what they were saying. He was completely surprised and acted as if it never crossed their mind. They thanked me and promptly changed the subject. That was 20 years ago.
I would think by now that business professionals would not risk their organization’s proprietary information, but it still happens. Are companies not training employees about use of sensitive information? The danger of having certain things get out can ruin the reputation of the organization and the individual who is sharing. It can put customers at risk. And depending on what is shared, it could cause huge liability to the organization, and could even be illegal.
Have you experienced this? What’s the most interesting information you’ve overheard at an airport, on a train, or at a restaurant? Did you intervene, or just let the person keep sharing? I’d love to hear how you’ve handled this.