One of my consistent beliefs on our current crisis is that it will be the defining moment for many organizations and leaders. Regardless of how people remember their own circumstances, I’m convinced they will have long-lasting memories of how others treated them.

When faced with a decision or important situation, it’s helpful to examine your behavior through a 10-10-10 framework. How do you predict you’ll feel about your actions in 10 minutes, 10 days and 10 years? Ideally, you will predict a positive association in each timespan.

Just last week, a friend shared a story about a large commission his company was due after closing a deal for a client. When COVID-19 emerged soon after, the client tried to use the extenuating circumstances to cancel their obligatory payment altogether, without a clear financial justification linked to the current crisis. It’s similar to a trend I discussed a few weeks ago, where people are refusing to pay rent, even when they have the means to do so.

My friend decided to remind the client company’s leader that they worked in a close-knit industry that would surely outlast the pandemic. He noted the two companies had a legal agreement and he would have no reservations about sharing the client’s dishonest tactics with several influential people involved in the deal. Ultimately, the client paid what was owed that week.

In difficult times, we should apply a partnership lens when working with others. It’s important to come to the table honestly, with a goal of reaching a resolution that addresses the reality of challenging circumstances, while also being fair to both parties. While there has been extensive discussion and examination of how companies treat their employees during this crisis, how businesses treat their vendors is equally important.

In our case, when clients have been open and honest about their troubles, we have responded with flexibility and understanding. We’ve also arrived at mutually positive outcomes in almost all cases.

But I have also observed many cases where companies were treated poorly by their clients in the past few months. In these instances, clients have placed the burden of their own decisions or problems on their vendors, without acknowledging the sanctity of a contract or the potential damage to the vendor’s business.

In these cases, a common tactic deployed is one that I have come to call “retroactive unhappiness,” having seen it many times over the years. This is when a client—often through a new team member or contact—suddenly asserts that they are unhappy with a vendor’s past performance to escape a past due obligation.

In almost all of these cases, there is an underlying problem with the client’s business. Rather than owning the fact that their business is facing financial challenges, these companies find it more expedient to express retroactive unhappiness with the services rendered. This cowardly practice speaks volumes about a business and its leadership. Vulnerability is valuable in difficult times, and businesses who refuse to show it often struggle to recover and alienate their partners in the process.

If you hired someone to paint your house and lost your job after they billed you, it would be unethical to tell them you weren’t happy with their work months after the job was done to avoid paying. The moral action would be to honestly explain your situation, affirm your commitment to pay, and figure out a payment plan to honor your obligation.

Let us also not forget the role karma can play in the long run. The people you treat poorly today often seem to find themselves in a position to return the favor in the future. The decisions you make in the next 10 minutes or days may help you—or haunt you—for the next 10 years.

Quote of The Week

“Life truly is a boomerang. What you give, you get.”


– Author Unknown