Should we pay our bankrupt supplier?
One of our suppliers has completed a job for us and shut down his business. My boss doesn't want to pay bill for his services. My boss justifies this because if something goes wrong with the completed job, the supplier won't be there to fix the problem. I think he just wants to avoid paying just because he can get away with it, and I think we owe the money and should pay it. I can't go over my bosses head about this or I'll risk my own job though. Can you give me ideas on how else to convince my boss to do the right thing? If I can't, I may need to quit just to live with myself. This feels like a trap and whatever I do, I lose. Help!
I asked my colleague Laurie Weiss, PhD, to answer this one, as she focuses on business integrity issues. Here's what she suggested:
You sound stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you take a strong position with your boss, he'll probably resist and you risk his wrath and possibly losing your job. If you go along with his program, you lose your own self-respect and you can't live with that either.
Try looking at it this way. Most people are honest when they know someone is watching them. Some, like your boss, are opportunistic when they think nobody notices what they're doing. When questioned, they really see themselves as honest and usually believe that they have a very good reason for their questionable behavior.
Given this, you do have another option. You can approach your boss as if he would naturally do the right thing if he understood what it is. Instead of confronting the issue head on, take the position of being confused by his behavior.
You would honestly be confused if you had not already decided that he is opportunistic.
You might say something like this. "Excuse me Joe, I'm having trouble understanding your thinking about this. I thought you were very satisfied with Mike's work."
With luck, Joe might respond. "Yeah, it was OK."
You "Have you needed to call him back about any work he's done in the past?"
Joe, "Not really."
You, "Are you really worried about this job?"
Joe, "Well...I don't know..."
You, "I know he's having a tough time financially--he had some really bad breaks. I know you always try to do what's right. What are you worried about here?"
Here you're appealing to Joe's better side, without challenging him. Your conversation assumes that he's doing the best he can, and you're giving him an opportunity to change his position by himself.
If Joe ends up thinking it's his own idea to pay Mike, you all win. Since you already see yourself in a lose-lose situation, you have nothing further to lose by giving this a try. And you just might win after all.
I'd also suggest that you consider talking about obligations and the karmic principal of "what goes around, comes around", but that's just me. :-) You can learn more in Dr. Weiss' The Integrity Course, an online, multimedia course to help you say what you think without getting fired or losing your friends.
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