“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
If only I could learn that! So many times, I’ve been in the middle of some statement and thought “just shut up, Maryann!” but of course it’s too late at that point.
I talk too much anyway. And I really want to give all of the information. And I want to tell the truth. And sometimes, this gets me in trouble.
The first time I realized, too late, that I should have just shut up was in the early 1990s when Magic Johnson reported that he was HIV positive. I was young, and worked on the Kentucky Fried Chicken account at the time as an account executive. Magic Johnson happened to own a slew of KFCs and I got a call from someone from the Washington Post asking if I could send them a camera-ready logo. They were doing an article about Johnson’s extensive business holdings. I told them I’d have to ask my client, and would call them back.
My client told me the absolute wrong thing. What she SHOULD have told me was to refer them to KFC’s public relations office. What she said was something like “Heavens no! We don’t want to be associated with THAT!” So I called the Post back and said no. The girl from the graphics design department asked if I’d speak to her “boss” (translated, as I found out later, as “reporter”) and he asked me why not. I hemmed and hawed – it was late on a Friday evening and my mom, sister and brother-in-law had just gotten in town and I wanted to leave to see them – and I basically told them what my client had said. As I mentioned, I like to be honest. As the words came out of my mouth, I desperately tried to backtrack. “I’m not authorized to give any statement!” I said. “You can’t quote me!” I said, almost in tears now.
But they did. Not with my name, but as an unnamed “source” who was repeating what someone from KFC said. Everyone in my organization and at my client’s office knew it was me.
I was sick to my stomach all weekend, with that feeling of dread. We rushed out on Sunday and bought the paper, and my fears were confirmed. Now I was sick with the dread of losing my job the next day.
In the end, I didn’t get in trouble, but the memory has stayed with me. But I’m not sure I learned the lesson all that well. Even as recently as a month or two ago, something I emailed to a business associate came back to bite me in the butt. I just answered a question truthfully, but had I taken a few minutes to think about it, I might have answered differently. I should have given the minimum amount of information and provided more only on request. I should have remembered that not everyone needs to or even wants to know the whole story.
Maybe by the time I retire I will have learned this lesson. Of course, I’ll be 90 then, and at that age I should be able to say whatever the heck I want and people will just have to deal with it!