Should you do business with someone you loathe?
A reader we’re calling Thérèse emailed me recently to tell me that her husband discovered that his favorite V-neck pullover dark blue cashmere sweater had a small hole in it near the left-hand shoulder. Thérèse pointed out that she had purchased the sweater as a gift for her husband.
After doing some research online for local places that could repair the sweater, she found general agreement that the best place was a small yarn shop not far from where she lived.
Here’s where things got a bit gnarled up for Thérèse. The shop’s owner is a woman involved in local politics. “My husband isn’t crazy about her or her views on local issues,” wrote Thérèse. “But he really doesn’t like the owner’s husband who is a builder who recently had his crews operating their jackhammers from early in the morning until late afternoon as they prepared to build a house in a lot in Thérèse’s neighborhood.
“I really like that sweater,” wrote Thérèse. “What should I do?”
Thérèse faces a not uncommon conundrum. She really wants something, but one of the best sources for that something is a place owned by someone with whom she would prefer not to do business. Consumers regularly face such decisions. A fast food restaurant may be owned by someone whose views run counter to your own, but it has tasty sandwich offerings. A charity collecting donations during the holidays uses those donations to help people in need, but it doesn’t condone some lifestyle choices. The founder of a large consumer goods company was widely reported to be miserable to his family. Any of these and similar circumstances is certainly enough to make doing business with them unattractive.
The choice is simple when we have options. We learn to enjoy sandwiches elsewhere or find other charities doing good works, or purchase similar products from companies whose founders are notoriously kind rather than cruel.
If Thérèse and her husband truly find the owner of the yarn shop someone they’d rather not do business with, the right thing is to find another option to repair the beloved sweater.
While reviews may have listed the yarn shop as the best, it wasn’t the only outlet offering repairs. Thérèse mentioned seeing that the local dry cleaner she’s enjoyed doing business with has a tailor on premises. That’s an alternative even if the tailor hasn’t risen to the top of the review site.
Or Thérèse can share any number of how-to mend a broken sweater videos on YouTube with her husband, give him a needle and some matching yarn and tell him to have at it. If she wants, Thérèse can help her husband mend his broken sweater.
There is little upside to being reminded that you compromised your values and did business with someone you’d prefer not to support every time you wear your cherished blue sweater.
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, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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