“You do not have a problem”

Someone called to ask my advice because he was worried about a perceived problem to do with tax. This gave rise to a dilemma all professional services business owners have to deal with now and again. The caller thought he had a problem. I did not think he did.

The dilemma for some is that they could charge a fee for “professional advice” to tell the client that they had absolutely nothing to worry about. The alternative is to say in two sentences why there was not a problem and allay the concerns of the caller. The downside of the second option is that there is no fee.

As usual I took the second option and “earned” no money. Am I stupid or merely ethical? The caller was grateful anyway and said that if again he thought he needed advice he would certainly come to me.

I hope it was good marketing on my part even if I did not earn a bean for the conversation. Was I stupid? What do you think?

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Ethics, business and psychopathy

Is my prospect a psychopath?

Is my prospect a psychopath?

Professor Kevin Dutton has a book out called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”.  I have not read it yet, but Professor Dutton has been promoting the book in the media, and has applied the psychopath test to various historical figures such as Henry VIII, Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde by having historians or their biographers complete a questionnaire on behalf of these famous people.

In layman’s terms, a psychopath is characterised as an individual who is incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy for their actions; they can be charming and charismatic, but they are ruthless in achieving their aims. Fortunately they are not all serial killers, which is just as well as apparently there are quite a few around. However the concept of ethics will be alien to them

In profiling towering personalities no longer with us, Professor Dutton finds an amusing way of promoting a book, and in his media material professor Dutton suggests that psychopaths may make very good surgeons, lawyers and soldiers.

I am quite sure psychopaths can be very successful business people, and will often rise to the top of multinational companies, some of which they will have created themselves. I am also quite sure that a client of mine in a past life is a psychopath. He is probably a billionaire now. He is brilliant with the media, but as someone who had to deal with him one-to-one on personal matters, I know that he is the most unpleasant, rude and ghastly person I have ever met in business. Quite apart from business confidentiality, I could not name this character because, unlike the historical figures, he is still alive to sue, and with his personality traits he certainly would.

Professor Dutton tells us that there is a spectrum of psychopathy which we are all on, but fortunately not all of us are on the high end, (any more than all those famous were, Henry VIII aside). I scored rather low, which means I will not be running a global empire by this time next week, but it led me to think that we need different attributes for different sorts of businesses.

Many of us have businesses where it is important to have a genuine relationship with our customers. We need an empathic understanding of their particular individual needs, and that understanding is also important in building trust in our network to gain business through our contacts, as well as giving referrals to them. Perhaps the people in our networks who are purely “takers” are higher on the psychopath scale, though I would expect clever psychopaths to do enough to gain a little trust from us until we know them well.

I would not want another client who was a ruthless psychopath. I have had one or two who were up the scale, took all I gave, tried to milk me for extras for which they were not prepared to pay, never referred me in all the years of exemplary service, and seemed surprised when I said I thought our relationship was at an end.

I need to like my clients and hope they like me too. Don’t you think it is great when your customers think of you first when asked to recommend someone who does what you do?