Staying Clear of Scoundrels

A guy selling gutter screens stopped by the house last week. We had inquired about his product because we need something over our gutters so we don’t have to climb high ladders several times a year to clean them out. The surrounding maples and those darn helicopters they spawn are a royal pain in the a**. In any case, the product this guy’s company sells is highly rated and seemed like it should do the trick. If it hadn’t been for the sales guy.

In short, he was a liar. I’m sure he thought he was smooth and that his tactics were effective. And perhaps they were. Most of the time. But not with me. Not this time.

Earlier in my life, Vera, I may have been more inclined to overlook his conduct as salesman puffery. Or just the manipulative way some sales people operate. But no more. Because of what he said and how he acted, I couldn’t trust him.

Unfortunately for him, I no longer will do business with people I can’t trust. It’s as simple as that. Even if they’re a client — a former client, that is. For if I can’t trust them, I don’t want them as a client either. Even if it means I’d be forgoing money.

I was reminded of something I’d heard Warren Buffett say. Buffett, of course, is highly successful, as judged by society’s standards: money. He’s one of the world’s richest men. While I don’t embrace all of Buffett’s principles, I do find a lot of wisdom in most of them. And this is one.

Shane Parrish has this to say about this particular principle:

The key insight Warren Buffett uses to make 5-minute decisions on billion-dollar deals is hiding in plain sight. Buffett realizes that if your offer was lopsided, he can’t trust you. And if he can’t trust you, he doesn’t want to do a deal with you.

That’s where I am today. It’s not where I always was. Earlier, I thought I had no choice but to deal with some people I didn’t trust because, after all, the world is full of untrustworthy souls. But no more.

The table turned for me when I worked at the college, where I discovered a trustee and administrator had been working behind my back to undermine me, notwithstanding their overt friendly and cooperative conduct. It was duplicity at its worst. And it’s what caused me to want to leave the college, even though it meant leaving a good job and, more importantly, a dream. It came down to this: if I can’t trust you, I don’t want to work for you or with you.

I’ve been fortunate: I’ve been able to trust a lot of people with whom I’ve dealt. But I also, when younger, was quicker to overlook character flaws in others. We all have them, of course. Character flaws that is. But duplicity and untrustworthiness are big ones.

It took me a long time to adopt a Buffett-like approach to my dealings with others. In hindsight, I probably should have been firmer with regard to this principle than I was. But that’s then; this is now.

Today, if I can’t trust you, I don’t want to deal with you. Period.

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