Last week I led a presentation for my consultant's group entitled Public Professionalism & Social Media. The overall discussion was about business people, whether they're working for themselves or for someone else, needing to control their language as well as what and how they say things, even if it's something they truly believe in, if it can negatively affect their business.

hateful image

I led with this image, which led to audible gasps in the room. It turns out no one had seen it, which shouldn't have surprised me but it did. Of course most people are going to know what the genesis of this is, but there's always backstories.

In this case, the first backstory is the candidate said he was trying to start a conversation and, since he was far behind in the polls, thought this would get things going. The second backstory is that he was actually a restaurant owner and a local pastor.

You can imagine what happened to both of them because of his billboard. He removed this one, and a few others that were quite incendiary, but the damage was done as far as his businesses were concerned. The scary thing; he still got 2% of the vote in his area.

After mentioning a few more things, showing how bad behavior has led to the ouster of some pretty high ranking people in their organizations, I shared something that I've kind of presented at different meetings for years, and pretty much got these responses:

I asked people if they censored themselves in these situations...

1. Do you curse around your parents?

No, because I respect them too much.

2. What about other adults, people older than you.

No, that would be disrespectful.

3. What about at work?

No, because I might lose my job.

4. What about your kids?

I try not to but sometimes they make me so angry I lose control.

5. You never lose control when talking to your parents, spouse, or neighbors?

Sure I do, but that's different.

Have you ever heard or seen someone do something you know is absolutely stupid and wondered why they still did it? Have you ever asked someone why they did something stupid? If you have, isn't the answer either one of these two things:

* I don't know

* I thought it would be funny

The next part of this question is why people would risk their livelihood by doing something similar. Sure, in some circumstances people seem to get away with pretty much anything, but we all know that's not close to being the norm. This isn't reality TV, and even there we've seen where someone said something on one of those shows without thinking about it, only to see the rest of their lives affected by what they said when they're not locked in that environment anymore. The usual response, after apologizing: "That's not who I am."

Here's the point. It doesn't matter if it's who you are. It doesn't matter the situation. Whenever something touches you deep enough you have to decide what's worth saying something about and how you say it.

I figure that every single person has at least one trigger where they feel compelled to say something. I certainly have one, which is race, which is why I wrote a post like this back in February.

However, what I do is, hopefully, choose my words carefully so that I get my point across, at least when I have the space to do so (Twitter can be a bit more difficult to manage). I don't call people names until they call me one, and even then those names aren't profane (most of the time I use a big word that I figure they don't know lol). I've learned over all my years of blogging that it might take an explanation to go along with my point of view rather than leaving a one line statement open for too much interpretation.

Then again, talking about diversity is part of what I do in my career, so it makes sense for me to bring race, and other isms up, as a topic when I feel it's needed. That might give me a small break, yet I still need to make sure I choose my words carefully.

I also always remember that, when all is said and done, I'm an independent business person. True, there are a lot of people I'm never going to work with based on what they've said or what they've done who might not even know it. I'm sure the same applies to me (actually, I know it does, and I know it has nothing to do with my words...).

The best lesson I can share isn't something I said, but something one of the consultants at the presentation said as the last words: "Don't fight too hard for something that's going to give you such a little return when it's over."

That's a good lesson for all of us to learn. If you need a little bit more on the subject, check out the video: