The Danger of Talking Business in Public

I was sitting in the back row of a US Airways flight listening to two young businessmen beside me rail on about a buyer they just met with. The comments covered everything from his hairline to his waistline. They ridiculed his attire and the lack of attention he seemed to pay to their presentation.

Clearly, this man bore more of a resemblance to a Hobbit than Brad Pitt, but really, guys? Do you really need to talk like this in public? Eventually, one of them mentioned the name of the company. Let’s call it “Linkco.”

Early in my sales career, I made the grave error of badmouthing a purchasing agent, making a cutting remark over his overly anal attention to details. I was speaking to my key contact at that company and, as timing would have it, delivered the punch line just as the head of finance was walking by.

I still cringe as I recall the man stopping in his track, turning around to join our conversation, introducing himself, and asking for my name. He didn’t have to say anymore. I knew what I’d done and the sheer terror of what would happen next was far worse than anything he could come up with.


That was a valuable lesson for a young and foolish sales person. I do not recall a time when I repeated that mistake.

Talking business in public is a no-no and not just when you are trash-talking. Murphy has a law that covers this situation, but if not, here’s how it should read: “The odds of sitting near someone who knows the person or company you are referring to increases with the severity of the comments.” Trust me, this is not a theory you should be testing.

If you have nothing nice to say about someone, well, you know how that saying ends. As for the rest of it—such as discussing business strategy—keep it to yourself or wait until you enter the Cone of Silence back in the office. It’s a small world, after all.

As a 30 year sales veteran, Bill has the perspective of a been-there, done-that sales rep in the commercial print arena. Following sales fundamentals and giving unapologetically "old school" advice, he writes and speaks in an entertaining fashion to make his points to sales people and owners who sell. "Bill Farquharson will drive your sales momentum."
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  • Michael Nuccio

    Great advice Bill! Like my old coworker Harry once told me – Never throw stones in a glass house.

  • Mary Beth

    Bill, I managed retail a number of years ago and a customer told me that she stopped going to our competitor because everytime she was there she heard the salespeople talking about the customer who just left. She said it made her wonder what they said about her after she left!
    Our policy was that you could not talk about customers when the door was unlocked. It didn’t matter if we thought no one was there…if the door was unlocked, you couldn’t comment. It seemed to work very well.

  • phxmke

    I had an "oh snap" moment myself. I tested, used and prepared OEM packages for software used on specialty DTG printers. I hated it. The programmer himself was onsite here in the states from England. I was talking with my boss when I complained it was so clunky and unintuitive it reminded me of Corel Draw v3.0. Just after that I hear in his british accent "I heard that" from the next cubicle over. At that point the meaning of "behind closed doors" sunk in for me…

  • Mary Beth Smith

    Ha! That last paragraph is exactly why I love you!! LOL