All of us have different relationships in our lives. We have family, friendship, acquaintance, neighbor social and professional relationships. Most of these are more personal in nature than our professional relationships. For most of us, our professional relationships are strictly tied to our vocation, business, or profession. Most of the time the two are exclusive of one another.
Think about it. When is the last time you and your family had your leading client, or customer over for dinner? How often has your family been to their house and dined with their family? Do you talk to this client/customer outside of work? Does the client/customer know the names of your children or spouse? Yet, your neighbors, family and friends know the names of your kids, their ages and where they go to school. All of us have relationships that are different and unique.
In America, we tend to compartmentalize our relationships. Professional or vocational relationships are kept at arms length from our personal ones. While it’s not unheard of, it is unusual to see a partner at a law firm sharing a family meal with a paralegal in the same firm, or a doctor dining or hanging out with a patient outside of the office. We tend to keep our lines drawn in this area.
Perhaps you’ve never really thought about this divide. Every day, people engage in business conversations and deals that never cross the personal-professional divide. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the great divide has implications for how we function as a society and culture. The devil is in the details of the conversations.
For example, you call on a client or serve a customer who is a cloaked racist, bigot or misogynist. You forge ahead because you reason that this “is business.” But what about the larger implications? What if you have to listen to this client droll on and on about the inferiority of women, or they use an “on the edge” racial epitaph? What if you are on the call with a member of the opposite sex and your high dollar client makes a veiled, but disparaging sexist remark? At what point do you draw the line? Is it a financial, moral, ethical, or personal line for you?
Each of us has to answer for what we knowingly choose to ignore, or absolve.
However, at some point we have to be held accountable and hold the client accountable for improper, illegal, or disparaging comments, otherwise we are no different from them. Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence makes cowards of men.” Lincoln was hitting on the need for people to hold themselves and those they encounter to a higher standard. To rise above the fray and be a part of something bigger while speaking against those who won’t.
If you dare speak up rest assured it’s going to cost you money, commission, or business. However, you will be able to look in the mirror in the morning, lay your head down on the pillow at night with no regrets.
There have been times over these many years that I regret letting something slip that I knew was wrong. I was wrong! I should have called it out. Other times, I spoke up only to be admonished by a superior for doing so and risking the loss of a high value client, member, friend, etc. And sometimes I was affirmed by management for speaking up against prejudice, sexist, or racist comments. I wish I had spoken up more in the past than I do now. As an Anglo male, I deeply regret some of the junk I tolerated, or blindly sat through in silence. It was wrong. It’s always wrong!
Business ethics is something that is not only learned in books, but it has to be caught and taught. Those of us with gray hair are most responsible for helping succeeding generations understand, appreciate, value and respect this principle.
Not long ago a friend used a horrible sexist, vitriolic phrase toward a neighbor of the opposite sex. I called it out. It cost me in the short run, but in the long run the offender came clean and rectified the wrong. I was willing to go to the mat for my “sister”. My only regret is the time’s throughout my life that I did not speak up regardless of the cost.
Are you willing to pay the cost? If honor, character, dignity and integrity matter to you down deep you won’t hesitate. Speak up, nothing’s worth not doing so except pain, regret, embarrassment and shame!
Monty Carter, Storyteller
102 Trade Street
Greer, SC 29651