Sunday, September 07, 2014
Never assume you know the deal without all the facts
Over dinner on a late summer evening with friends, the conversation at L.S.'s house turns to professional baseball. L.S.'s home-town team is doing well in the standings and tickets are hard to come by.
One dinner guest happens to have season tickets to the home games. After L.S. mentions that his oldest grandchild has become quite a fan of the team, the dinner guest reveals that he has tickets for an upcoming game - one he won't be able to attend due to a conflict.
"Sweet!" L.S. thinks. He and the grandchild can take in a game.
"Are you interested?" the dinner guest asks.
Without hesitation, L.S. say, "Yes!"
L.S. promptly calls his grandson to see if the date is free and ask the boy's parents if he can be out on a school night. The child is excited and his parents are excited for him to see his first professional baseball game.
"All set," L.S. tells his dinner guest.
"Terrific," the guest responds. "I can drop off the tickets later this week. I'll give them to you at face value."
Suddenly, L.S. feels stupid. He'd thought, foolishly, that the dinner guest was giving him the tickets. But the guest clearly thinks he's doing L.S. a favor by only charging him face value since the games are sold out.
He's got great seats and the face value of the tickets reflects that greatness -- $125 per ticket.
L.S.'s grandson is already excited about the game and L.S. doesn't want to disappoint him. L.S. also doesn't want to seem like a cheapskate, nor does he want to make his guest feel bad by suggesting that he assumed the tickets would be free.
The tickets would cost more than L.S. ever would normally have spent on a sporting event. Buying them would put a significant dent in his monthly expense budget.
What's the right thing to do?
If L.S. truly can't afford the tickets and buying them would cause financial hardship, he should tell his friend the price is a bit steep and pass on the opportunity. The next step would be to tell his grandson the deal fell through -- a potentially difficult task, but better to temporarily disappoint him than go into hock to attend a baseball game.
However, if L.S. can afford the tickets and wants to take his grandson to the game, the right thing is to pay his friend face value.
Suggesting that the friend should simply hand over the tickets for nothing or sell them to L.S. at a discount would put the friend in an awkward position. After all, while he could have been clearer when making the offer, he never said the tickets would be free.
It's always best to be clear on the cost before making commitments.
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 programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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