Today at the airport as I waited for a plane, I overheard a man across from me talking loudly on his phone. He went on and on about a client company, using the company's name repeatedly. He described their problem and how it might be solved. He used the phrase "a million dollars" several times.
His client is a huge company in the Seattle area. We were at the Seattle airport waiting for a Seattle-San Francisco flight. Chances were good that someone within earshot worked for the client company. I myself have led business writing classes there.
Loose lips sink relationships. It's a play on the World War II U.S. warning "Loose lips sink ships," which cautioned people against talking about details that the enemy might overhear and use. My version is to caution people against thoughtless conversations–especially in public places–that can harm businesses and business relationships if overheard.
Since this is Business Writing blog, let's tie "loose lips sink relationships" to writing. Here is a suggestion: Never put in writing something that would embarrass you or others if it were forwarded or passed on. If you would not want to see it on your boss's tablet, on the company intranet, or in someone else's tweet, don't put it in writing. Doing so could damage your relationships, your business prospects, and other people.
We can communicate about confidential topics, but we must do it discreetly. For example, the loud talker at the airport might have lowered his voice and not used the client company's name. In writing, we can leave out names and not write things we should not be communicating in the first place. (I am thinking of the New Jersey scandal in which one email, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," has become a familiar slogan for news consumers and a feast for comedians, along with costing several people their jobs and their relationships.)
Have you experienced "loose lips" situations–spoken or written–that threatened relationships? I welcome your stories.