My father and I often recount stories from our business dealings – mine ongoing, his mostly recollective. Many aspects about how business is conducted today bears little resemblance to commerce in my fathers day. Though for as much as business may have changed over the years, some core principles remain steadfast. Chief among them, if you can trust a man’s handshake, you do not need his signature. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly to some, there are still a great many folks perfectly comfortable with doing business this way. The key for them however, is to carefully avoid those with a different set of values.
My ‘day job’, sometimes requires me to try and help resolve misunderstandings between two parties bound together by contracts rather than handshakes. Most of these situations are rather easily resolved by appealing to the parties innate sense of fairness. Even folks with a depleted sense of fairness, are often vain enough that they do not want to be recognized as unfair, so they play along for posterity sake’s. The odd time however someone comes along so intent on being difficult, that neither vanity nor fairness are enough – enter the lawyer. Personally, I have found living my life in such a manner that limits my need to seek legal advice makes for a softer pillow at night. Not all share this view. And so it was in one particular situation, that after having appealed to a sense of reasonableness on both parties, I found myself chatting with one of the parties solicitors. After listening to my recount of the situation which indicated his client was at fault, he concurred that my account of the facts were indeed his understanding as well. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘this should be easy now’. Then he followed with a warning that his client was ‘incapable of buying a bag of popcorn without a lawsuit.’ And so with that, the issue died, with one side having successfully bullied the other into submission. Yes, there was a signed contract- enforcing it however would prove to be more expensive than it was worth.
As you may appreciate, it is difficult to be more specific about such instances. The core of the story however, is one that many people may relate to. Some people think nothing of breaking any contract, while others would sooner die than than go back on their word. Interestingly, the former usually like to be thought of as shrewd business people, while the latter do not care what you think of them. They understand the maxim: ‘if you have integrity, nothing else matters – if you don’t -nothing else matters. ‘
Based on my limited sample size of anecdotes (2-mine and my fathers!) these are qualities that remain unchanged in business over the last half century. By all means, seal your deals with a pen, but only with those people with whom you deem a handshake sufficient. Price becomes a secondary consideration when you know you are dealing with someone you can trust. Whatever the fee, it is a bargain at twice the price.
Thanks for reading,