Once upon a time there was a plumber named Bob and a home-builder named Tom. On a bright, sunny day, Tom asked Bob to tile a bathroom for a home. Tom intended to sell this home to either investors or other homebuilders. The two men agreed upon an estimated price for the work, and with few other details, the work began. At some point before the work was completed, Tom expressed dissatisfaction with how the job was proceeding. There were also a few delays as well as several cost overruns as a result of the bathroom being considerably more complicated than originally anticipated.
Here’s where things got complicated. Bob said that he’d done many many bathrooms before in exactly the same way. Additionally, some very well known investors and homebuilders had publicly stated they’d always been happy with Bob’s methods and the results, even when there were complications. Unfortunately, Tom grew angrier and angrier and finally fired Bob, despite Bob offering to do the remainder of the work for free.
A few months later, Bob was at a professional homebuilder’s banquet. He was sitting in on a discussion given by some very well established investors, homebuilders, and plumbers. He was surrounded by other plumbers, all listening intently so that they could improve their craft and be better plumbers someday.
This group of professionals considered themselves a tribe, a group who strove on a daily basis to prop each other up and help wherever they could. Some of them even aspired to become homebuilders and investors themselves. The topic at the time was professionalism in their craft—how to navigate the complicated thing that is the business of homebuilding.
During the banquet, Tom kicked in the door, slammed a bag of dog poop on the table in front of Bob, and then stormed out.
The very shocked audience and group of panelists looked around at each other, wondering what it was all about. They didn’t know who Tom was and never even got his name. Being professionals, and after a few cleared throats, the discussion continued.
Most at that banquet had no idea what really happened between Bob and Tom. However, when the meeting was over, people started talking and asking for more details. Bob refrained from discussing the matter. But a tribe is a small community. Some of the details got around, while most did not.
In the aftermath, some of the people at this banquet did a little research. It turned out that Tom had gone to great lengths to condemn Bob’s work and warn others not to use Bob’s services. He had attempted to reach as many people as he could with this warning.
Interestingly enough, the situation with Bob wasn’t the only time Tom’s vitriol had come up. It seemed that Tom had a history of angry, public demonstrations and a growing reputation for public vitriol … in some very public places.
Now here’s a fact about life and business. People talk about their experiences, and people pick sides without knowing the details. We see it every day in a variety of industries.
The reality is that not a single person at that banquet is likely to do business with Tom if they know who he is. He may very well have been the victim of unprofessionalism. Unfortunately, the only thing anyone at the banquet is going to remember is the bag of dog poop and the guy who threw it down.
Is that fair? No. Is that a fact of life and business? Absolutely.
You see, in an industry where your reputation is the means by which you further your career, the best advice you can ever take is to avoid those who publicly share their vitriol. The reason is simple: you never know when such a person is going to get cross with you and start screeching injustice at the top of his or her lungs. You also never know when someone who doesn’t have all the facts will be in a position to help you further your career.
Tom has a growing reputation of vitriol. And Bob now has to work against both the vitriol and a dented reputation. He may very well have made mistakes. As a contractor, I can tell you it happens. And as a contractor and business owner, I can tell you that I do my best to fix such problems as they come up. I am not always successful, and I have ex-clients who won’t do business with me again. It happens, and you have to roll with those punches.
The one thing you’ll never see me do is defame someone in public. I’ve had at least one experience where both my character and my professionalism were called out and defamed in a very public manner. I can say that I’m rather proud of my response. A few within my inner circle know these circumstances, but most do not and will not ever know what really happened. The other party in question didn’t—at the time, at least—agree with this facet of what I consider professional behavior. He went screeching about the injustice of it all without sharing all of the facts. Again, this happens in life and business. You have to roll with those punches too, and in that moment of crisis, you need to decide whether you will feed into it or turn your back on it and move on.
I can also say that I’ve had work done for me that wasn’t up to snuff. I’ve paid for or refused to pay for sub-standard work. In no circumstance did I ever publicly flame the individual or business in question. Did I ever do business with them again? No. Did I mention to friends who asked me for recommendations? In some cases, yes, but only when asked.
What I would pass on to other professionals in my own or any industry is to simply remain calm, despite the trials and tribulations of business, and do your best not to not throw vitriol out into the world. It has a funny way of coming back at you when you least expect it or, worse yet, where you will never see it.
And it can happen whether you deserve it or not.