Sunday, April 27, 2014
Rudeness makes dinner invite tasteless
What's the right thing to do when someone insults you, but then asks you to dinner?
Years ago, I was researching an article about whether companies that offered employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) -- a mechanism by which employees own shares in their own company -- outperformed companies that did not. I'd read up on the topic and drawn up a list of experts I could talk to who'd reportedly studied the issue.
What I was trying to figure out was whether anyone had specifically studied and documented whether ESOP companies outperformed non-ESOP companies, and if they had, if they would share specifics with me. On what basis was performance being measured? How much exactly did the ESOP companies outperform or underperform?
I was given the name of a fellow I was told had researched the topic and might have the kind of information I was looking for, so I emailed him and set up a time to talk by phone.
He was clearly enthusiastic about the topic, reminding me how intuitive it was to believe that ESOPs improved a company's performance. It only makes sense, he said, to think that employees who own part of a company would be more inclined to want to see it perform well than those who did not.
I agreed that intuitively it made sense. But I had told him in my email that I was looking for someone with solid evidence that ESOP companies actually did better, someone who had specifically researched ESOP-company financial performance and analyzed the results. I reminded him that I was looking for specifics.
His reiterated that his research showed ESOP companies clearly outperformed other companies. No question.
So by what specific percentage, I asked, again trying to get him to share his concrete research.
He seemed taken aback that I questioned him and asked for specifics and responded with a curt two-word expletive.
Taken aback myself, I asked him if I'd offended him somehow. He told me I had questioned his credibility by asking him to substantiate his claims.
I reminded him that I was reporting a story and simply looking for information.
He repeated the expletive.
This went on for some time until it became clear he either didn't have or wasn't going to share his research with me.
I thanked the source for his time. Before we hung up, he mentioned that he'd purchased a table at an upcoming industry association dinner and asked if I'd like to join them.
Given that I'd never been invited to dinner by someone who less than 15 minutes earlier had hurled epithets my way, I wasn't certain of the appropriate response. I supposed it might be an interesting event. You never know where an idea for a story might arise. Then again, I'd have to spend time with this guy.
If he didn't want to share information with me (if he indeed had it), the right thing would have been for him to simply tell me he chose not to share it rather than to launch into a verbal attack. I declined his invitation.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin