This past week I was thrust into the job of truth verifier where I had to decide which of two parties in a dispute was being the fairest and the most truthful in a business deal gone bad. Even today I am struggling to decide if I should take sides in the issue or perhaps I should just stay out of it.
During this process I have been told the facts that seem to be very clear and concise, making it very clear that one side is on the right and the other is in the wrong. But in the process of hearing the facts there have been small yet significant little lies or misstatements of the facts. When the person on the right hand told me certain facts, I was convinced he was telling me the truth, but in later conversations he has also let slip some small lies that maybe even he didn’t realize he was telling me. These slip-ups have caused me to doubt my opinion of which side is in the right.
One of the few things we are all born with is a good reputation. For most, that good reputation came with no strings attached, and it is up to us to get through our lives with that good reputation intact. To mess up that reputation is not only unfortunate, it can be life-changing for the worse.
Some years ago while working as the Publisher of the South Idaho Press, I made a sales call at Utah State University where I was trying to secure a bid for the printing of their on campus phone directory. The road to a successful bid went straight through the head procurement manager on campus. With a tiny knot in my stomach I went to see the one guy who makes the decisions.
His secretary took my business card and explained that her boss did not see people unless they have made an appointment. With some convincing, she agreed to ask him if he would make an exception. A minute or two later she returned, announcing that he would indeed see me, which left the two of us pleasantly surprised.
Upon my entering his office he asked a simple question, “Are you related to John Lenkersdorfer?” John is a pretty common name but tagging it with the last name Lenkersdorfer makes it rare. “Yes, I answered, I am related to John Lenkersdorfer. You’re either talking about my father, who passed away a few years ago or you are talking about my brother John who is about five years older than me”. As it turned out, he had known my father.
“I agreed to see you without an appointment because of your father,” he explained. He then went on to tell me about how he had come to know my father. One of the duties of the procurement office at Utah State was to sell surplus items to the highest bidder. After my father had retired from running his small television sales and repair store, my father would frequent these surplus auctions. “Your father would bid $1 on just about anything,” he explained.
It was at this point that I remembered going through my father’s garage. He had so much junk he had acquired at these surplus auctions, often not having a clue what he was bidding on or how he would benefit from it. When visiting my father one day he showed me his latest purchase. It was a five-foot-tall cabinet filled with electronics. It had dials, switches, screens and tons of other things on it. “Wow, that is really cool, what is it?” I asked. His answer was typical, “I have no idea, but it only cost me a dollar.”
As it turned out, I was able to leverage my father’s good reputation, along with the low bid, to secure the print job I had sought after. Had my father been a thorn in the side of these surplus auction people I would have never been able to get the print job.
Returning to the present day, and the dispute between these two parties, I am at a crossroads where I need to make a decision about these two disputing individuals. One wants to publicize his dispute with the other by running a Sound Off while the other simply wants to escape any bad publicity over the deal in question.
There may well be an answer that includes “the gospel truth” but I doubt it. There are too many “he said” items on each side of the equation. Party ‘A’ would like nothing more than to simply move on while party ‘B’ wants to unwind the deal he initiated several weeks earlier.
Maybe if these parties had the reputation my father enjoyed his entire life it would be easier to simply move along, but that isn’t what is happening. In situations such as this the only outcome I can see happening is two people not getting what they want. Actually, I think that is the definition of the word negotiation – when neither party gets what they want.