Have you ever had someone do something nice for you? Very likely, but, how many times did they later hold that nice deed against you?
One time I had a contractor taking care of various projects around the house. The joys of owning a home, right? Anyway, his work was nothing to write wild reviews over, but he did a good job at a decent rate.
The day came when the contractor dropped the ball. To make the long story short, it was a case of a poorly installed sink that resulted in a persistent leak that left noticeable damage on the newly purchased cabinet below. Rather than go through the hassle of replacing the sink, I asked for a discount on one of the projects we still had lined up for him. To my surprise, he launched into a tirade about my lack of gratitude. How dare I ask for a discount after the hundreds of dollars he’d already taken care of at no charge?
I was caught off guard. It’s not every day someone yells at me on my own driveway on an otherwise normal Saturday morning.
I thought back to these gestures he claims to have provided free of charge. Yes, he’d picked up the sink from the store and brought it to the house. He didn’t charge for that service. I had expressed my appreciation for the gesture. Was that worth hundreds of dollars? I didn’t think so. No one is that nice, but everyone is entitled to decide how much their time is worth. I couldn’t remember then, and can’t remember now, what else he had done free of charge.
The contractor had always been paid on time. It was the only other justification I could think of for the outburst.
He said he would replace the sink. It was kind of a halfhearted grunt as he stormed off. Later when I followed up to set up a time, he disappeared, never to respond to my e-mails or phone calls again.
Let’s first look at this from a business point of view.
A business interaction should be straightforward. A provider offers a product or service at a specific price. You, as the customer, can choose to exchange your money for that product or service at the agreed upon price. The end.
The moment the provider offers to do something outside of that agreement, the nature of the interaction changes. It doesn’t matter that the provider does something for free. The dynamics change in such a way as to shift the balance of power from you to them. The provider could leverage that gesture to upsell you on additional services, leaning on the emotional obligation you might feel to reward the gesture with more loyalty. This is why the combination of family, friendship, and business has to be handled with care.
Generally speaking, do not offer, or accept, anything that has not been properly agreed to be compensated. From the business owner’s perspective, if you’re going to throw in a freebie to cultivate customers, do it and forget it. Freebies are not a storehouse of credit to cash in later. From the customer’s perspective, do not use the provider’s good will to take advantage of them.
Now let’s look at this on a personal level.
I don’t like feeling like I owe anyone anything. Sometimes at work a friend will randomly buy me lunch, a soda, or some other token of kindness. I absolutely love these gestures, but I love it even more when I can return the gesture so as not to feel beholden to the individual.
Yes, I freely admit I have issues. Sometimes your friends just want to be nice. People really are capable of doing things just because they like you. I’m sure my issue is worthy of a discussion with a therapist, because if I’m being completely honest, the idea of celebrating my birthday can be overwhelming. What if I cannot properly repay people for taking time out of their schedule to do something nice for me?
Actually, I don’t need a therapist to get to the bottom of this little dilemma. I’m sure at some point in my life someone pretended to be nice and then totally yanked the rug out from under me, thereby creating a lifelong complex. Whew. Okay, I’m glad I don’t have to spend $150 an hour to demystify that one…
You see, I’m not opposed to a fair exchange of kindness, but there’s a difference between a natural exchange and an obligation.
If you’re going to lend your friend a hand, do it and forget it. If you keep tabs on who did what for whom, the friendship is likely fragile and needs attention.
If you’re going to do an extra chore around the house to help your significant other, do it and never look back. Keeping score in romantic relationships rarely ends well.
If you’re going to give a relative money, give it and forget it. If you don’t feel comfortable never seeing that money again, don’t give it. If they pay you back, consider it an unexpected bonus.
If you volunteer to take on a project, see it through its completion and forget it. Sometimes we get in over our heads and wish we’d never raised our hand. Next time you’ll know better.
Me, I would rather pay more if it means the slate is wiped. I don’t want to owe you anything, and on the rare occasion that I do, I want to be aware of it going in.
Keep your gifts if they come with strings.
Keep your compliments if they come with caveats.
Keep your hand if the other can’t wait to collect.
Keep your kindness to yourself if you plan to charge me later.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my work wife left a homemade pastry near my computer keyboard. I am sure it is delicious, but before enjoying it, I must go upstairs to the cafeteria and fetch the kind of beverage I know she enjoys!
Clearly, I need help. In the meantime, what do you think? I look forward to your responses!