The walls have ears
Today I learned all kinds of things about a well-known company in my city. How? I was in my local Starbucks, sitting beside three gentlemen who were revealing the most proprietary of details about their business.
It was shocking. I couldn’t help but hear, considering that they were sitting less than three feet away from me. And perhaps more concerning was the fact that they didn’t seem to worry that I could hear — it’s as if I were invisible.
I had planned to catch up on some work; writing, reviewing documents and more — but that wasn’t to happen. The timbre of their voices was particularly loud; louder than any headphones could drown out. That, and the fact that the Starbucks Playlist over the coffee shop’s speakers was louder than usual. I was, in effect, a trapped and unwitting part of a conversation that I had no interest in being a part of (it was a busy morning and there were no other seats to be had). Worse yet, I recognized a couple of names that were casually bandied about, as I have worked for many years in the industry they were discussing. The world is small; even smaller when you’re in a local Starbucks.
Worse yet, I recognized a couple of names that were casually bandied about, as I have worked for many years in the industry they were discussing. The world is very small; even smaller when you’re in a local Starbucks.
The meeting was with an interviewee for a potential job in this company; he was clearly being poached away from his current role. This was probably a good thing, considering how he very unsubtly spoke about his employer, his lack of mobility in the company and his colleagues. Yikes.
A treasure trove of information
So now that I knew that the guy beside me was trolling for a new job, I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to learn all about the poachers’ company. I now know much more than I’d ever want to about the business at hand as a result of their laissez-faire attitude about discussing proprietary information outside of the office walls.
Some of the details that they very casually discussed in earshot of (presumably) total strangers:
- The name of their company
- The annual revenue of their company
- Projected revenue for the fiscal year
- The strategic plan and vision for the next quarter which pivots from what the rest of the company thinks it’s going to be (based on information that is currently publicly available about the company)
- Specific details and insider “tricks” that they use to get additional money from donors and supporters
- The fact that they “flatter and build up” supporters and other corporations/company alumni (even if it’s insincere) in order to get more money from them, and that it’s an unwritten but well-known strategy that works
- First (and some last) names of a few employees, specific details about them (not particularly positive), who’s going where, promotions, demotions and more
I’m not kidding.
Now, this may sound strange, considering that all of this appeared to be discussed as part of a job interview. I thought it was strange as well, but on afterthought, it occurred to me that the two guys who were presumably poaching the third man were trying to impress and entice him to move over to their business. Poaching requires inducements in the form of proprietary company information, apparently.
Are we too comfortable revealing all?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing a mere table away from me, though I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. We do, after all, live in a world where propriety and decorum are at an all-time low; where loud yet intensely personal discussions are carried on in public spaces and airwaves regularly. While there are definitely positive aspects to our ability to reveal all anywhere and everywhere we choose, there are also drawbacks. One of them is the reality that privacy and its continued demise will have negative consequences for those who aren’t paying attention.
We live in a world where propriety and decorum are at an all-time low; where loud yet intensely personal discussions are carried on in public spaces and airwaves regularly.
The possible ramifications of idle chatter
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out some of the ramifications of idle coffee shop chatter. It’s one thing if you’re providing spoilers to last night’s season finale; it’s another when you’re discussing total compensation, benefits packages and downsizing plans. Someone’s bound to get hurt and one day, that someone could be you.
On the corporate side, the adage “loose lips sink ships” still stands. A slip of the tongue could result in anything from the loss of a job or two, to sinking stock prices or worse. In other words, when outside of the office walls, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and stay quiet.
All this has resulted in a cautionary tale for those about to head out to the nearest coffee shop to talk business. Remember: Be careful of what you say and where you say it. You never know who’s listening.