At first glance it seems like one of those terms may not belong, after all business is supposed to be about truth, honesty and fair dealing – right? Good business at least. We’ve always been taught that to succeed you should treat others like you aim to be treated. Why then do professionals find it acceptable to lie to each other everyday with complete comfort and acceptance? The psychology of business fascinates me and there’s no better time to reflect on this than at the end of another year.
I grew up with a series of old school, “nose to the grindstone” role models. Both of my grandfathers were heroes in their own right. One a farmer and city councilman, the other a builder and decorated veteran of war; each provided a pinnacle of achievement to idolize. I was, as many young children are, taught that hard work and strife were rungs on the ladder to success. I was taught to maintain my ideals and scruples to pave that path with a reputation I could be proud of. I would say this is probably the story of many people out there, each with the same idealistic view of the rise to success. The keystone to this view is trust in the notion that everyone has a similar worldview and will extend the same complimentary respect.
Of course we know that’s false. Somewhere along the line we learn that; for some too late, for others, too soon. Regardless, it’s the reaction to this knowledge that matters. At some point we all need to make a decision, do we simply embrace the behavior that has become commonplace, or do we fight against it and bear the constant barrage. That behavior I’m referring to is of course, the commonplace practice of lying.
Somewhere along the line for many people in business it became acceptable to lie. I see it almost every single day. Certainly if you operate in any sales capacity, you see it daily. The person that simply goes dark rather than responding, the many excuses for not making a meeting, the “price shopping” techniques that have become common place. In my experience many buyers don’t even believe sales professionals are even human any longer, and treat them in very disrespectful ways – certainly not how they would want to be treated. In the buyers defense, sales plays its hand at the lying game as well. The “end of month” push, the takeaway, the pendulum sale – all fancy terms for deceit. It’s a bluffing game and it’s all about who plays the best.
This same behavior carries over after the sale as well and the “virtual” nature of business these days makes it even easier to disassociate behavior from our view of self when it’s done across the webspbhere. Often times when money gets involved, as it’s bound to do, business behavior becomes worse and worse. Want to get out of that contract? Time to assemble some quick complaints and phantom issues. Looking to save money? Claim that a past employee signed without authorization or mislead the company on what they were getting. It’s all too easy for customers to develop this bad behavior – after all, the customer is always right. The alternative is to look foolish or worse, wrong to their internal colleagues or the boss. There’s nothing worse than that!
Of course there is something worse than that, lying, but all of the above has become so commonplace that we no longer call it that – we call it “negotiation.” What passes under contract negotiation these days in downright criminal. One of my worst jobs was as a contract monkey – they had some marketing title for it but basically that’s what I was. I was in charge of placing a lot of media contracts and every year about this time it was time to re-negotiate. I was in charge of getting the best price, the problem being after I was finished my boss would take 3 or 4 more passes all while requiring me to relay messages. It got so bad that I actually called on of the vendors he had been especially harsh with, to apologize. I actually quit soon after. I realized the type of blatant lying that was taking place was so incredibly wrong but because it had started small I didn’t notice how out of control it had gotten.
I think this happens a lot and much of the behaviors in business that are commonplace have been passed down from superiors. When we move up into those positions it’s easy to adopt their ways and perhaps even amp things up a bit. When I catch professionals lying I no longer feel a need to call it out – but I do make a note to myself. I remind myself of what I never want myself of my organization to be – I never want to foster or exhibit that “do anything to get ahead” mentality. We pay our bills, we honor our contracts and we treat others, as we would like to be treated. By doing something so simple we are embracing the un-common notion of respect – respect for people we don’t even know. And weather it be in the office or over a web meeting spanning the globe I see those old role models of mine smiling because common sense hasn’t been completely snuffed out.