In Matters of Reputation, Context Is King

Even if you disagree with the motto that “the customer is always right”, it is hard to deny that your stakeholders are the boss when it comes to how your communications with them are perceived. Are you coming off as a partner who is interested in a positive two-way street relationship with your stakeholders? Or are you coming off as a relationship dictator who has self-interest rather than mutual benefit in mind?

When it comes to reputation, context (as your stakeholders receive it) is king. It rules the Land of Reputation and all who hope to thrive there.

The broad scope of context includes tone. Tone also has scope, from the lilt in your voice to compassionate word choices.


It’s easy for tone to be misread compared to your intentions. The phrase “you’re unbelievable” can be received can be received very differently based on the tone of your voice. Happy “unbelievable” can become angry, exasperated “unbelievable” with a change in the tone of your voice.


While it may not seem like it some days, it is quite rare for someone to intend to hurt someone else’s feelings. Most often it is just a simple mistake and one that happens to all of us. Usually when there are transgressions in tone, they are usually small and transient moments in time rather than spectacular breeches of sensitivity or repetitive misunderstood comments.

Mistakes in tone that affect reputation are often momentary lapses in communications where your point of view eclipses your stakeholder’s point of view


Stakeholder perspective can sneak up on you if you’re not looking for it and, before you know it, you’ve tripped on it and made a reputation gaffe. Stakeholder-centric reputation planning can help you avoid context pitfalls and keep your reputation on the right track.
Marylou McNally is author of The Reputation Bank, an interactive planning tool and training program that is designed to help people and organizations build stronger stakeholder relationships, improve stakeholder-centric decision-making, and drive positive reputation. Learn more at