“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”. The phrase is not mine but from the big investor Warren Buffett. It is so sad that people like the former Republic attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, and the founder and former CEO of WeWork, Adam Neumann, only two recent examples, apparently, have never heard of it.

Reputation makes difference. It is possibly the most important asset in the world, and companies have started to realize this. A recent survey by the Havas Group found that the world’s top 15 stock exchanges owe more than a third of their rating to corporate reputations. Which means a value of US$ 16,77 trillion for shareholders.

If people had a similar way of measuring how much their reputations are worth, and took that into account as a guide to their behavior, social media would probably be empty.

It is not new that the internet and smartphones have changed our relationship with information. Today, everyone is a content producer and disseminator, but a great power requires great responsibility (right, Uncle Ben?), and it is apparently forgotten.

So, I share some tips for you not to mistreat your reputation – that distant best friend that you sometimes forget, but that makes the difference when you need it most.

  1. Understand what your reputation is about

Reputation is the opinion, or social assessment, that others have about you. Thus, in order to know which is yours, you need to understand what others are saying about you. When was the last time you did this? It is a paradox: we know that what others say about us worth more, socially, than what we say about ourselves. That is the basis of almost everything in life: professional recognition, investments, deciding which restaurant to eat or where to travel and relationships. But we almost always come into conflict when someone disagrees or speaks ill of us. Before doing anything, we should consider this: what is my reputation? Do I have a social currency valuable enough to talk about the topic I want? What are my limits?

  1. Think before you act

OK, I know it sounds like one of those old self-help phrases, but it has never been more valid. It is related to the first tip: if I know what my reputation is and I understand what is the credibility I have to talk about the subject I want, it does not mean that I can go out talking deliberately. I have to consider several factors, such as:

– My interlocutors: do the people to whom I will speak know my reputation? Do they know my history and achievements? What is their level of knowledge? Can I be more technical, profound, shallow or didactic?

– My credibility: is it updated? Am I a person above good and evil to say what I want without worrying about the consequences? Or am I susceptible to scratches on my image?

– My subject: does the topic I am going to address make sense? Do I have mastery or good knowledge of it? Did I check the information before passing it on? Did I understand the context before criticizing?

– My common sense: am I giving voice to something false, prejudiced or offensive? Did I choose appropriate and credible sources? Am I violating a law, an unspoken rule or “crossing the line” in a trial? Is my tone right?

  1. Be aware you are being judged – today and always

Finally, this is probably the most valuable and most sensitive tip of all: we are at the mercy of the opinion court that people have about us, and that will never change. We are always being judged, whether by what we say or don’t say, and, no, there is no right answer or behavior: there will always be those who will criticize us.

Knowing that detractors are as important as those who applaud us is essential. It is what allows us to maintain our moral integrity, protect our values and credibility, and that is what allows us to be authentic. If all unanimity is stupid, all sumptuousness tends to be blind and deaf – and it is there, precisely at this point, that reputations begin to be self-destructive.