It should have been a simple business transaction. I met the woman early last week and she seemed professional enough. We spent half an hour talking about a proposed deal.
Toward the end of the meeting, she told me something that seemed to contradict what she had said earlier. I questioned this small detail and she explained the contradiction away as a misunderstanding. I accepted her story and was prepared to sign a contract.
The next day, she didn’t do what she had told me she was going to do. When I contacted her, she had an explanation that was vague and questionable. She told me a couple of specific things she was going to do in the next couple of hours. By this point, I was skeptical and suspicious, but I was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
And then she just disappeared. Completely. Poof. She didn’t return my phone calls or texts. She didn’t do any of what she promised to do. After a couple of days, I gave up and put her on my list of people not to do business with.
She’s a liar. She has no integrity. I can’t trust her.
The truth is that I’m always on guard today when I do business with people. I’ve learned that most people will look me in the eye and lie to me when it suits their purposes — and then they’ll want to keep doing business with me even after their lies come out. Lying seems to be routine for most.
There was a time when I was more likely to trust people I did business with, but the overall culture of dishonesty seems stronger than ever. When I talk with a lot of people about it, they just shrug, as though to say, “What else would you expect? We all lie when we can.”
I’ve told you before about how I learned to be a really great liar when I was a child. When you’re in a family which preaches honesty but exhibits wholesale dishonesty, you learn to be an accomplished liar while you fail to even see the hypocrisy of what you’re doing.
That was a moral failing which I had to face in myself years ago and make major changes, but it left me very sensitive to the culture of lying around me. I feel a little bit like Diogenes of Sinope wandering the streets of Athens with a lantern, looking for an honest man.
This sounds depressing, but I see it differently. To me, it means that there’s an opportunity for the very few people who choose to have integrity — across the board — and do the things they say they’ll do. Two other brief conversations from this week will illustrate this.
Friday afternoon, a co-worker and I were talking about someone who we both do business with. This man had just told us a story — as an explanation for why he didn’t do something — which neither of us found to be credible. After the man left, my co-worker and I talked about the situation.
Neither of us believed the story the man told. We both assumed that he was leaving out key pieces of information which might have made him look bad. Because of things we had seen from him in the past, neither one of us had the least inclination to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I hate to say this,” my co-worker said, “but I’ve realized that he’s just a con man.”
We have been seen him lie — and omit facts and fudge the truth in various ways — enough that we don’t have much use for this man.
Earlier in the week, someone from another company was talking with me about a mortgage broker who we’ve both dealt with for a couple of years. The story was very different with this guy.
“When Jim says he can do something, you can take it to the bank,” the other agent told me. “He doesn’t say something unless he’s sure and he doesn’t make a promise that he doesn’t keep.”
That had been my exact experience with Jim. (Not his real name.) As a result, who do you think is our first choice when we need to send a client to talk with someone about a mortgage?
The culture of dishonesty is pervasive today. People don’t tend to bat an eye about lies, because they expect people to lie. It’s so bad that even the most socially conservative Christians are willing to look the other way — and make excuses — when the president they support tells the most outrageous and easily disproved lies.
If you’re wise, though, you’ll see this as an opportunity. Since there are so few people who always tell the truth and always meet their commitments, you can earn trust far easier than ever before — just by displaying integrity in all that you do.
I don’t want to do business with liars. I doubt you do, either. All of us should strive to be the sort of honest, ethical people who we would choose to do business with.
Integrity is good morals, good ethics, good business. Besides, if you’ve told the truth, you never have to remember which lie you’ve told to whom.