business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are countless reasons why I am a huge fan of Abraham Lincoln. But there are fewer things he said better than the following: “'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Two headline postings on Yahoo News yesterday reminded me why we all need to heed Lincoln’s words more than ever these days. The simple truth is that any indiscretion now can become global news because the world of communication now moves with lightning speed.

The first headline came from the Detroit Lions playoff game this weekend. Apparently one Lions’ player, Aaron Berry, was upset with what he perceived a lack of support from fans after the Lions lost. So Berry took to Twitter to suggest that tell fans: “"Y'all can go back to being Broke & Miserable…now back to regular scheduled programming…"

Not surprisingly, Berry took down the Tweet in short order, but by then the Tweet was widely distributed and the damage was done. Luckily for Berry, Detroit’s season is over, which means no home games until next August at the earliest. Even better for him, sports fans are fickle so as soon as Berry intercepts a pass those fans will forgive, forget and start cheering.

One employee at Papa John’s won’t be as lucky. The pizza chain is dealing with a kerfuffle on line because an employee identified a customer on a receipt with an ethnic slur and then, incredibly, gave the receipt to the customer. Like Berry, the pizza employee won’t be around for next week’s playoff games, but he won’t have redemption next season. He was fired and Papa John’s is left to cope with a public relations problem.

Now let’s pause a second for a moment of honesty. I like to think I’m a nice person, but trust me (or better yet, trust my wife) I’m a long way from perfect. At various times in my life I know I have said things I shouldn’t, have commented on people in ways I shouldn’t and frankly have talked when I should have shut up. And I’m betting I’m not alone.

But smartly or luckily, I’ve managed to show discretion and clear thinking when it comes to what I write, Tweet or post. Somehow I know when to shut up.

I’m thinking that luck is no longer enough. Lincoln’s words and the thinking behind them should be part of every employee orientation these days because in a world of wide-open communication, stupidity can be transmitted faster than ever. And the consequences are never good.

The Detroit Lions need to remind players that without fans the players are simply very large people who would no longer be allowed to pummel each other. It’s the devotion and spending of those fans that allow players like Berry to live the life they have. Fans are customers and right or wrong they must be treated with respect.

And the Papa John’s case is even more relevant. It’s not about political correctness to remind all employees to treat all customers with respect and sensitivity. That’s a fundamental part of business. As one customer Tweeted about Papa John’s, “Your employees are your brand.” Sadly, what happened at Papa John’s could be happening at businesses around the world today. It isn’t a matter of whether a faux pas will happen; it’s a matter of when and how often.

It’s a wide-open world with new rules or, more correctly, no rules. So to repeat, let’s remember Lincoln and post the following: 'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” Especially on line!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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