Have you ever been on the “receiving end” of situational ethics? Especially, this year? Thought so!
Although it’s a topic we first addressed five years ago, lately, have had several clients tell me maddening stories about how their clients, customers or prospects ain’t “playing it straight with them.”
Therefore, it’s once again appropriate and important for us to revisit.
Liar, liar, pants on fire!
A client recently asked me, “Jeff, I caught a client telling a lie. And, it’ll have a negative impact upon me and my business. What should I do?”
That’s a tough one. Because any successful relationship requires trust. At all levels. At all times. When I reflect back on almost three decades in business, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Because my clients have been and are bright, honest, reasonable people.
There have been few exceptions. But they do exist. And they surprised me. Folks I never suspected to bend the truth or to manipulate the facts, did. But why? Well, it was usually to gain some short-term economic advantage. And, it was often prompted by their own “tough times.” Somehow their temporary misfortune became their justifier or enabler for situational ethics.
While these acts of intellectual dishonesty or lies have been limited, I’ve noticed common characteristics amongst the abusers.
They misrepresent facts, have selective memories, question stuff that’s confirmed in writing, previously agreed to and never questioned before, but now claim it’s inaccurate.
So how have I uncovered these acts of deceit? It’s never with a bold claim, “You’re a liar!” That would be dumb. Instead, it’s with polite questions.
When my nose tells me something stinks, I calmly query. And since liars don’t have good memories, they bury themselves with their own words and forgetfulness. The hard part is they now know I know. And I know they know they lied!
This unfortunate moment of “gotcha” seldom ends with a heartfelt confession. Instead, the perpetrator suddenly devises a fabricated escape route, i.e., “Oops, I’ve got to take this unexpected call!” or “I’m being called into an unplanned meeting!”
Although once I remember an extensive conversation with a prospect who became a client, for a speaking engagement. We had confirmed goals and objectives. Articulated anticipated results and outcomes. And even discussed directions to his office for an in-person dialogue with his folks prior to the program. All details, including the investment and payment schedule were confirmed. After sending him our agreement, he sent me an e-mail. Not a few days or even a week later, but three weeks later! It stated, “I thought we were in preliminary discussions.”
This made no sense. Now, I could have fired-off a terse e-mail response, but I didn’t. Instead, I picked-up the phone, called him and calmly asked, “What’s really going on?” There was this long pause. Then he finally admitted, “I’m really sorry. We’ve been hard-hit by some devastating surprises. We canceled the whole meeting. Thought it would be easier, to pretend we were in a preliminary dialogue. When things get better, you’ll speak at that meeting.”
Yikes! Would I ever want to work with these folks in the future? How could I? Did he call me again? Of course not.
As my kids once asked me, “Daddy, if somebody lies, how do you know if next time, they’re telling the truth?”
Some tell me, “Jeff, folks lie. It’s the norm. It’s part of business. Everybody does it.” Bull! That’s ridiculous.
Successful business relationships don’t require lie detectors, belief barometers or ethics evaluators. Yet, on occasion, you might find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s fantasy vs. fact and rhetoric vs. reality.
So what do you do? You have choices. Consider: Is this a relationship worth pursuing? Should you swallow hard and simply move on, with or without this relationship and business? How might you create a dialogue with your client, so you can resolve this conflict and still work together? What’s really at stake; ego, pride or money?
To resolve this issue: How much time might you invest? How much money might you spend? How much energy might you expend?
Now I realize, certain lies, improprieties and breaches can deliver varied impacts and consequences. That’s why we have arbitrators, mediators and lawyers. However, on the behavior continuum, some times the best course of action, may be no action.
Or, it may be swift, aggressive and decisive action led by an attorney. Or, you call Tony Soprano! (Just kidding!)
Whatever you do: Don’t lose your cool; don’t make a rash decision, instead, ask others for their counsel, seek advice from those who have no emotional or economic attachment to the outcome; don’t send a rambling, emotional or threatening e-mail or letter (the printed word has a lifetime, it’s called forever); don’t turn right into wrong.
Unfortunately, with this dilemma, there are no sure-fire, guaranteed, can’t miss strategies. There are only guidelines. Because one fact, can change your decision and behavior. Plus, you’re dealing with human beings. Who can occasionally be unpredictable and unfair.
However, keep in mind, when you expect others to live by and work with a commitment of integrity, you too, must embrace and live by that same standard. It ain’t easy. But it’s a non-negotiable.
Jeff Blackman is a speaker, author, success coach, broadcaster and lawyer who lives part-time on Marco Island. His clients call him a “business-growth specialist.” Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to jeffblackman.com to subscribe to his free e-letter.
Peak Your Profits appears every Wednesday in the Eagle.