The Inner Bottom Line ™
A Syndicated Column about Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas
I know it’s unethical when someone cheats me when I've paid for something, but I don’t get why they do it. I hired a house painter that guaranteed the work in writing. His references checked out. A month later, after I paid, the house started to peel. I called and told him he needed to fix things. He got nasty, said I was crazy and too demanding, that the heat was to blame, then hung up and refused my calls. I've reported him to the contractor's board and Better Business Bureau, but I can’t afford a lawyer. What could I have done to avoid this? How does he live with himself?
I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Unscrupulous behavior abounds and no one likes to get screwed. It can leave us feeling confused, stupid, and outraged: all unfair, undeserved, and uncomfortable feelings. Since this happens too often, it’s important and worth examining, for it’s the smaller, every-day problems that tend to mount up until they topple over, taking us with them.
The exchange of money tends to change things. When money enters the equation, people are often tempted to cross lines they might not otherwise because it means more dollars in their pocket than in someone else’s. In our culture, money is one of the ultimate symbols of power.
Why do people act this way? How does this turkey live with himself? People who behave unethically use power irresponsibly, ignore their values, and avoid being accountable for their actions and the impact of those actions on others. They often rationalize bad behavior with a distorted belief and sense of entitlement that the rules are different for them; that what they’re doing doesn’t matter as long as they don’t get caught or nobody knows. Sometimes, they use abuse, arrogance and rudeness to mask the fact that deep down inside they know they’ve crossed the line, but they’re so out of control and filled with self-loathing that they’re like a runaway train, unable to stop.
People who behave like this can sustain a business for a while, operating under the assumption it doesn’t matter if customers are happy or respect their work because there’ll be a new sucker tomorrow. In a large city, they’ll get away with it to start, but eventually, things will catch up to them. Could you have done anything to avoid this? Often when we’re driven to meet a timeline, we rush and ignore signs of possible trouble because we want to get the work done now. Or we pick the cheapest bid. In the future, remember references are always questionable. No one gives you references from someone not happy with their work. Just remember you have choices, and every choice comes with a price, in time, money, emotions. One inexpensive option you have is to take him to small claims court. That may allow you to recoup the money you’ll need to fix the problem.
You’re not responsible for his lack of values and ethics. In hindsight, you’re only responsible for making a bad choice. While most folks who provide these kinds of services are honorable and well-intended, there are also, regrettably, many who take no personal pride in their work.
So professionals, listen up. If you provide services, put your honor where your checkbook is! Bad behavior will catch up with you, and you’ll pay a much higher price than you think. People you treat badly won’t forget. And they’ll tell their friends who will tell their friends.
Finally, a word to consumers. Don’t hire anyone who treats you disrespectfully or makes you feel uncomfortable. It just compounds the problem. Trust your instincts. No one’s irreplaceable. There’s always someone else. It just takes a little effort to find them. In the end, it comes down to respect and fairness. We work hard for our money. We deserve to have our patronage appreciated and valued. If it isn’t, then change is in order.
As for feeling badly? That’s a normal and healthy reaction. While your head knows you did all you could, there’s still a wounding that takes place whenever we’re unfairly taken advantage of or not respected. Be patient and good to yourself. Don’t be victimized or embittered by what happened. Tomorrow you’ll get new choices and what you’ve learned will help you make even better ones.
The Inner Bottom Line column now runs in first use on OregonLive.com/Living every Tuesday and appears in the weekend print edition of The Oregonian.
Olive Gallagher, life coach, ethicist, and national speaker and columnist, has a full-time private practice specializing in stress, boundaries, transition and choices.
You can submit your questions and ethical dilemmas or book consulting appointments and private and group coaching sessions with Olive at 503-908-7842 or www.theinnerbottomline.com.
Hard cover, Kindle and audio versions of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life™, are now available on amazon.com.