At first, L.J. was simply baffled, but that bafflement slowly evolved to confused, and ultimately arrived at anger. Even though he had never had his landline phone number listed in the white pages, he did occasionally receive robocalls or solicitations from company representatives who had gotten his number off some list.
He could usually identify the latter because he or she would mention a legal first name that he never used. But this call was different.
"I'd like to speak with L.," the caller said when L.J.'s partner answered the phone on a recent Saturday morning.
When asked who was calling, the caller identified herself as a person known in their neighborhood. She told L.J.'s partner she had just received her real estate license and was calling neighbors to see if they knew anyone looking to buy or sell.
"I got L.'s number from the white pages," the caller said, referring to the old-fashioned phone book. L.J.'s partner told the caller he wasn't home and ended the call.
When she told L.J. about the call, the bafflement hit.
"I'm not in the white pages," he said. Nevertheless, that's what the caller had insisted.
She also seemed to know a bit more about L.J. than any white page listing would have revealed, such as his place of employment. "Had the caller Googled him?" he wondered.
Neither L.J. nor his partner dwelled on the matter much and went on with their day. It was when they were on their weekly walk together that it finally hit him.
"That's the neighbor who passed around the clipboard about a year ago at the neighborhood meeting about some new home construction, which required a zoning variance," L.J. said. The neighbor had said that she planned to use the information on the clipboard to notify neighbors of any new meetings scheduled with city representatives.
L.J. was miffed. "I think she's using that list to mine for new customers," he told his partner. "That's just wrong."
"Should I call her and tell her to stop?" L.J. writes. "If she's getting my contact information off of that list, then she's likely doing it to others."
If the neighbor was using information from a list intended for a civic purpose to advance her own business, she was wrong. If she's lying about where she got L.J.'s number that compounds the wrongness of her action. Beyond being unethical, it's also bad business, because who wants to do business with someone who's deceptive from the get-go.
But what if L.J. is wrong? If his newly minted realtor neighbor actually did get his number from some online service calling itself the "white pages," then he finds himself in the position of jumping to conclusions and falsely accusing a neighbor of being dishonest.
He's got two choices: He can call her up and ask her where she really got his number, or he can simply tell her he doesn't know anyone buying or selling and let it go. Were it me, I'd let it go, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also to avoid having to get another sales talk over the phone.
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 senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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