Tell the truth … the third Pelzie Principle, seemingly simple but possibly the most difficult for his kids or anyone else to authentically grasp.

I think the reason telling the truth is difficult is because we can so easily rationalize and convince ourselves that we aren’t stretching the truth. The easiest lies, and possibly the hardest to detect, might be the lies we tell ourselves. Jonathan Haidt from the University of Virginia says that the greatest moral philosophers are the best at rationalizing their own lies. We see this in politics and business all of the time but, can we rationalize and lie to ourselves about our own authenticity?

In the late 90’s our company, Ex Officio, Inc., attended the Outdoor Retailer trade show, an important four day event held twice a year in Salt Lake City. Our company had nonstop appointments from the beginning of the show to the end. After one meeting, I noticed our National Sales manager was having an intense discussion with two women from one of our smaller accounts. I didn’t know the account so I decided I would go over and introduce myself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had interjected myself into the middle of a difficult discussion about short shipping this customer. Short shipping is when a company does not fully fulfill a customer’s purchase order.

As it turned out, our customer who was short shipped was extremely angry because the shirt style they didn’t receive was one of their best selling styles. I apologized and asked our customer what we could do to make her happy. She did not want to hear anything we said other than that we would ship her store the shirt style we weren’t able to ship. She went on to accuse me of holding shirts back for our largest customers in order to curry favor with them instead of shipping the smaller accounts. I told her this wasn’t true but she continued to insist that it was.

After accusing me of being deceitful, I stopped the conversation, took a breath and said “we were at fault for not shipping you your product, but if you are questioning my integrity, I don’t think we should continue to do business with each other. Thanks for coming in, good-bye!” She and her partner got up and left. You can safely assume the atmosphere in the booth wasn’t exactly jubilant.

Well it wasn’t long until the work day was finished. My two business partners, our VP of Sales and I decided to have a fine meal and a few beers at one of our favorite Italian joints. And guess what? We were seated at a table right next to the two customers we had earlier clashed with! We gave them a polite nod and sat down. Fortunately the place was boisterous enough so our respective table’s conversations couldn’t be heard. After a few moments, I had an inspirational thought. I told my partners we were going to pick up their dinner tab. I thought they might not go along with this idea if I simply offered so I discretely found their wait person and told him I wanted to pay for their dinner. When our customer went to pay their bill, the waiter told them that we had already picked up their tab. As I thought, they weren’t very happy about it, and grudgingly they came to our table to give us a quick one word “thanks” before leaving the restaurant. Now I wish I could say my suggestion of picking up their tab was because I was being genuinely nice and trying to make amends. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I expected this gesture would grate at them.

The next day, the woman who accused me of deceitfulness came to our trade show booth. She apologized for her actions the previous day and genuinely thanked me for picking up their restaurant tab. Making a special trip to our display booth to apologize and thank me for dinner had to be extremely difficult for her, but she did it anyway.

After she left, who do think felt like the jerk? Although I rationalized that picking up their check was simply “comical”, in actuality it was done to make these people feel uncomfortable. It certainly did not represent the esteemed integrity that I fought to defend the day before. I think you could easily make the case that my authentic intention for picking up the check was far closer to being unkind than being upright.

The lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of being completely authentic as a person in all facets of my honesty and integrity. I hope I never forget that the biggest lie may be the one I rationally tell myself.

The last of the three Pelzie principles, number three “tell the truth” … not as simple as we might think!