How To Develop A Spotless Reputation
Illustration by Ms Giovanna Giuliano
The three key qualities to get people talking about you – for all the right reasons.
Your reputation is the foundation upon which your life is built. A reputation for dishonesty will hurt your social life. A reputation for incompetence will do your career no end of damage. And yet, how many of us think about our reputations in a deliberate and strategic manner? The reality is that we tend to coast along hoping that our essential good nature and hard work will eventually be noticed.
A good reputation means you win life’s prizes without having to put in anywhere near as much effort as your less-illustrious competitors. Mr Casanova’s reputation for being a master seducer meant that women threw themselves at him to see what the fuss was all about. The Mafia’s reputation for deadly violence meant that cooperation with business associates was ensured without a drop of blood spilt. More prosaically, renting out a flat on Airbnb becomes much easier and more profitable if you have a clutch of glowing reviews.
Reputation is a game that we all must play, whether we like it or not. So why leave it to chance? This is the thinking behind Messrs David Waller and Rupert Younger’s new book, The Reputation Game, which is out now. In this new volume Mr Waller (a former FT journalist who now works as a consultant to governments and financial institutions) and Mr Younger (director of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation), aim to demystify the process of reputation-building, offering up a few vital lessons in the art of getting people talking about you (and your business) in the right way. Suddenly desperately worried about our own reputations, MR PORTER caught up with the authors to try and find out how to play the game. This is what they had to say.
The three levers of reputation
There are three main levers that you can pull in order to influence how you are perceived by others: Behaviour, Networks and Narrative.
How we behave signals important information about our status, trustworthiness, beliefs and competence. “‘Behaviour signalling’ is particularly relevant in fashion,” says Mr Younger. “What you wear signals how you want to be perceived. A suit or something very casual signals very different messages. Thorstein Veblen, who wrote The Theory Of The Leisure Class, believed that wealth and power meant nothing unless they were displayed, and considered the wastefulness of expensive luxuries as essential to their appeal. Waiting lists for exclusive items are deliberate mechanisms designed to increase perceived value.”
How to play it: “Always be deliberate in your choice of clothes,” says Mr Younger. “Always match your outfit to perceived expectations and the occasion. Never be overdressed or underdressed.”
We all belong to networks, be they through social media, colleagues or just our family. If behaviour is the message, then networks are the means by which people hear it. Put simply, the better connected you are, the better you will do in life. “In the past our networks were tied to a physical space, but because of the internet, our networks are also defined by our interests, friends and work,” says Mr Waller. “It’s not enough to be competent, people have to know about it. Within any network there are individuals known as ‘high-status intermediaries’. A referral from one of these powerful people will help your career. For instance, the price of an artist’s work often shoots up when they are taken on by one of a handful of influential galleries.”
How to play it: “You’re known by who you associate with,” says Mr Younger. “Be deliberate about who you mix with and the people who you are seen out with.”
“Narrative” is how a company or individual talks about themselves, and done well it creates “legitimacy” – one of the most powerful tools in the reputation game: “If I said, ‘I’m Rupert and I’ve just written a book about reputation because I think it’s interesting,’ that’s not going to get me very far,” says Mr Younger. “But if I told you I am the founder of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation, then that’s going to be much more useful when I’m promoting this book.”
How to play it: “One of the best ways to promote legitimacy in business is through transparency. If there is little difference between what we say and what we do, we receive the stamp of authenticity.”