Updated on 07.24.13

The Value of a Good Reputation – and How to Build One

Trent Hamm

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” – Socrates

All of us have friends and family with different reputations.

Some of our friends and family are rock-solid people that you know you can rely on when you need them. All you have to do is give them a call and they’ll be there. If there’s a project to be completed, they’ll help out. You turn to these people when the chips are down and on the rare occasion when they ask for help, you’re quite willing to help them.

Some of our friends and family, though, are far less reliable. They might be fun to hang out with, but when anything with responsibility comes up, you know not to include them. When the chips are down, you know these people are unlikely to come through.

Now, let’s say you have an investment opportunity sitting before you, or you’re looking for someone to join your company. You have a reliable friend and an unreliable friend who both have what you need.

Who are you going to call? Who’s going to get the reward?

This might seem a bit dramatic, but the core of this idea happens over and over and over again in life. When something important comes up, the opportunities tend to go to the people with good reputations before they go to the people with questionable reputations.

The person with the good reputation is the person you’re going to invite to social gatherings. The person with the bad reputation might get invited to a cookout, but there will be a lot of invites that they miss.

The person with the good reputation is going to get introduced to lots of people with a positive referral. The person with the bad reputation won’t get those positive introductions.

The person with the good reputation might have someone speak up on their behalf during a hiring process. The person with the bad reputation might have someone speak up against them during a hiring process. (The person with no reputation won’t have anyone speak up for them at all.)

A good reputation is valuable. It’s something you’re going to want on your side.

Building a Good Reputation
Many people, as they enter adulthood, do not have much of a reputation at all. Sure, some people have already done exceptional things and have a bit of a positive reputation, and others may have done some silly things during their teen years and developed a bit of a negative one, but both of those can be wiped clean by moving to a new area. There is always a chance to improve your reputation.

So, how do you do that? I’ve found that there are five key things anyone can do to move their reputation in a positive direction.

Emulate those you know that have earned your respect
Think of the handful of people in your life that you respect the most. What do you respect about them? What do they consistently do that make you think of them in such a positive light?

Those are the things that you should be striving for. Act like them. Imitate them. If you’re not sure what to do in a situation, ask yourself what you think that person would do. Don’t hesitate to ask them for advice on difficult challenges you face.

Cut out the negative talk
Don’t talk negatively about anyone in any situation unless you’re facing them alone one-on-one or you’re in a group environment where they’ve requested criticism. If you can’t think of good things to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

This can be very hard for some people to do, but it’s a key part of building a good reputation. People who are constantly negative rarely have a positive reputation.

Avoid behaviors considered negative in the culture you want a good reputation in
You might personally find no problem with a certain behavior or even find it to be a positive, but if you’re looking for a good reputation in a certain group, you should avoid those behaviors.

It’s really hard to give a list of what such behaviors might be because it depends heavily on who you’re trying to build a positive reputation with. In general, if you’re uncertain, ask yourself what the leaders of this group would think of the behavior you’re questioning.

A few negative behaviors are fine if they’re counterbalanced with the other items on this list, but piling them up will create a negative reputation that you won’t be able to overcome.

Take on responsibilities, but be sure you can follow through on them
Some people fail to build a reputation because they never take on any responsibility. Others build a bad reputation because they offer to take on big responsibilities and can’t follow through. There’s a happy middle ground there and that’s what you should shoot for.

When people need things and you’re sure you can help them with what they need, volunteer to handle it and then follow through. The follow through is the key part of building a positive reputation.

An occasional failure is acceptable and expected, but it should usually come on top of a large pile of successes. Also, it’s often worthwhile to silently take on responsibilities that need to be handled. You don’t need to shout what you’re doing from the rooftops – in fact, that’s often detrimental.

Be involved – increase your points of social contact
This involves both being social and participating in community events. They’re both vital in building a good reputation.

For starters, it’s hard to build a good reputation if no one knows who you are. You have to speak up. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Learn how to converse with people you don’t know and practice it as much as you can.

The best way to do this is to participate in community activities where you’ll have the chance to meet a lot of people. I’ve met dozens of people simply by coaching youth soccer, as I’ll interact with parents and grandparents of all of the kids on my team. I see them again and again at community events, like the annual community celebrations that happen in the towns in our area, and when I see them, I greet them and ask how their kid is doing.

It doesn’t take much effort on my part, but there are a lot of people out there in the community who have a more positive view of me because of it. Repeat that over and over again and it just builds on itself.

That’s really all there is to building a good reputation. Figure out who you want to have a good reputation with, emulate the leaders of that community, trim out the negative talk, be social, take on responsibilities that you know you can follow through on, and follow through on them. It’s a pretty simple recipe and it’s one that, over time, will start earning you dividends in many different aspects of life.

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