Sunday, August 26, 2018

Choose not to lie


Just about 20 years ago, Bill Clinton apologized for all he "had done wrong in words and deeds." He went on to say that he never should have misled the country, Congress, his friends, or his family. He said the reason for his deceitfulness about an affair with an intern was that he had given in to his shame.

A week after apologizing, on Dec. 19, 1998, Clinton was impeached by the U.S. Congress. On Feb. 12, of the following year, he was acquitted of all charges by the U.S. Senate. Clinton remained in office and served out his second term. He was only the second president of the United States to be impeached by Congress. (The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868. He was also acquitted.)

The week after Clinton delivered his apology, I wrote acolumn about the consequences lying can have. I wasn't focusing on the consequences to those who lie, although being impeached can certainly leave a stain. Instead, I wrote: "When a culture of lying with impunity is perceived to have taken hold at the top, it bodes ill for behavior in the rest of an organization."

If people at the top send the message that it's acceptable to lie, regardless of the reasons, it sets the tone for loyal followers or determined opponents.

Sisela Bok, the author of Lying: Moral Choices inPublic and Private Life (Vintage Books, 1989) clarified for me at the time that being truthful and refraining from lying doesn't necessitate disclosing everything to everyone all the time. "There's great room for discretion, for knowing when not to speak," she said.

I was reminded of Bok's comments recently after SebastianStockman, a former student who is now an associate teaching professor at Northeastern University, tweeted some passages from Bok's book on lying, observing that it is "fullof bangers."

"Human beings ... provide for each other the most ingenious obstacles to what partial knowledge and minimal rationality they can hope to command," Bok wrote.

She observed that the "whole truth is out of reach. But this fact has very little to do with our choices about whether to lie or to speak honestly, about what to say and what to hold back."

We can find any number of reasons to lie, but these rarely result because of our inability to know the whole truth about any situation.

While it seems as if we are being more bombarded by lies than ever before, lying is nothing new. With each incidence, however, these lies erode our trust in the people who live with us, work with us, or lead us.

If possible, challenge those who do lie. If it's a boss who regularly lies, decide if it's time to seek employment elsewhere. If it's an elected official who lies, register to vote and work to vote him or her out of office.

But first, when faced with the temptation to lie, don't. Even if you have a gift for lying and convincing others of your lies. Even if your personal life or career have seemed wildly successful, choose not to lie.

Each lie told has consequences, if not for the person committing the lie, then for those of us who are subjected to those lies. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Should reader inform prospective contractors they're competing for the job?


For several years, a reader we're calling Lil Magill, has known that the porches on a two-family rental property she owns and rents out were beginning to rot and were in need of repair. Finally, this summer, Lil decided it was time to take action.

Much to her chagrin, Lil found it challenging to find contractors who would respond to her emails or phone calls asking for a meeting so they could assess the porches and bid on the project. The neighborhood where Lil owned her property for several decades had become quite desirable among young renters over the past year because of its proximity to public transportation.

The contractors Lil wanted to use apparently were booked up with other projects. Nevertheless, she persisted, and managed to set up meetings with three contractors who had done similar work in the area.

At the first meeting, the contractor indicated he would put together a proposal for Lil and email it to her. Lil was thrilled that things were finally moving along and readied herself for meeting with the other two contractors.

Before the second contractor meeting occurred, however, Lil wondered if she risked angering the prospective contractors by not letting them know she was speaking other contractors before deciding who to use for the job.

"Am I obligated to tell each contractor that I have several people giving me bids on the job?" she asks.

Lil is no novice to working with plumbers, electricians, or other tradespeople. But in the past, she says, she tended to use the same person over and over again. The porches, however, were a bigger project than she typically had and beyond the scope of most of the tradespeople she'd worked with over the years.

"I don't plan to select the contractor based solely on the price," Lil writes. "I want to get a sense of how they say they'd approach the project. I also want to talk to people whose houses they've worked on before to get some references."

But now, Lil wonders if she broke some sort of ethical protocol by not letting the contractors know they were competing for the job.

Any seasoned contractor should know that he or she is competing for work when they put together a proposal for a project, particularly if there's no pre-existing relationship with the customer. Contractors also know that projects they bid on sometimes don't materialize for any number of reasons, whether they prove more expensive than the homeowner wanted to take on or simply the timing didn't work out.

If Lil wants to tell the contractors that several people are putting together proposals for the job, that's fine. She might find that doing so lights a fire under some of them to get their proposals to her more swiftly. But given the heated real estate improvement market, she shouldn't hold her breath that informing them of the competition will speed things up.

Lil has no obligation to tell each of the contractors that he or she is not the only contractor looking at the project. The right thing is for Lil to meet with the contractors, review the proposals, do any due diligence of their work she deems necessary, and then decide with whom she'd like to work. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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