I Like You, If...
About 15-years ago I designed a pole barn for Mr. Potroste.
He’s just now getting around to building it and ran into trouble during plan
check because the codes have changed three times since 1998.
“Yeah, Garrison,” he said, “they’re making me re-engineer
this thing. Seems the wind loads got ratcheted up. Since I gotta do that I may
as well make some other changes I’ve been thinking about. I want to widen the
building 12-feet and move some doors around. I hope it don’t cost too much money.
And, oh yeah, I was also wantin’ to raise up the shed rafters and add an 18”
“Not a problem,” I said. “But it’ll take a few hours of my
time. How much did I charge you for the original design?”
He gave me a, you’re
not going to believe this, but... look and said, “Five hunnerd dollars.”
To which I replied, “Well, that certainly was a good deal.
Unfortunately it’ll be at least that much again. I can’t tell you the exact
amount until I prepare an itemized estimate, which I’ll do and email you later
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before parting ways. He
was sooo nice.
Back at my desk it became clear that I would have to
redesign nearly the entire building - there was almost nothing I could reuse.
My standard contract is a one-pager, the top portion showing
an itemization of tasks, time, and rates. I don’t recall what my hourly rate
was in the ‘90s but as one would expect it was lower than today. The bottom
line came to $775. I emailed this with a short explanation.
A day went by without reply which surprised me because Potroste
seemed in a rush. The following day my phone rang. “Garrison, this is Potroste.
I got your contract and I gotta tell you I’m shocked. You told me five hunnerd
and now it’s up to 775. That’s too much. Just cancel the whole thing and mail
me back my old plans.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ll do that today. But the fact is,
I did not tell you the cost would be $500. I said it would be at least that much and I needed to do a
breakdown to determine the exact amount. I’m sorry if I was unclear.”
“I know what I heard, Garrison. You said five hunnerd, which
in my way of thinking is a man’s word. I don’t like being jacked around.”
“Again, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. I’ll mail your
old plans today. Best of luck.”
I got off the phone and immediately addressed an envelope.
My thoughts were along the lines of, good
Ten minutes later my phone rang. “Say, Garrison, Potroste
here again. Y’know, I got to thinking and changed my mind. You can go ahead and
do the engineering. I figger I could either pay your 775 or hire someone else
and pay them a thousand. I appreciated that you were early to our meeting the
other day and so I’d just as soon give you the business. Most engineer-types
make me wait, and it seems they like doin’ it.”
I’m a big believer in true colors. I’ve written about it
more than once: When someone shows you their
true colors, pay attention. Potroste, ten minutes earlier, had shown me
some of his. Essentially he had called me a liar. I am many things, but liar is
not among them. In fact I go to great pains to ensure that I don’t even accidentally
Dilemma: Do I take the
job or pass?
Knowing it was a gamble, I went ahead and took the job.
“Okay, sounds good,” I said. “I’ll get on that tomorrow and
will be finished by end of the week.”
“Oh, you don’t have to bust a gut getting ‘er done,” he
said. “The week after is fine. And by the way, I’m sorry if I came on a little
strong. I just don’t like being jacked around and I thought you put it in
concrete that the cost would be five hunnerd.”
“I understand,” I said. “Again, I’m sorry for the
misunderstanding. Let’s just put that behind us and get this thing done.”
I think we’re all guilty of modifying our behavior to some
degree depending on whether we want something or whether we possess the thing
someone else wants. As long as I could provide Potroste with the revised design
he wanted for free or nearly so, he was so nice. But when my needs exceeded his
willingness to give, his mannerism flipped. In truth, there was nothing vague
or confusing about my original statement as to fee, even though I let him save
face by saying it was a misunderstanding. Maybe his first phone call was a
strong arm attempt to coerce a cheaper price?
On a related note is the arrogant building official who has
a monopoly on a critical thing I frequently need: a building permit. It’s not
like I can employ someone else to provide one. No, we are all stuck with the
staff our jurisdiction has hired. Few things in life are more maddening than an
incompetent or conceited plan checker or inspector. Have you ever known a public
employee who quits for a job in the private sector? It’s amazing how they
adjust their disposition when their paycheck depends on being likable.
In summary, do you behave differently when you want
something as opposed to when you have the thing others want? The “thing” can be
tangible like a building permit or a set of plans. My teenage son provides
another excellent example. He’s so friendly when he wants money – he’s been
known to actually initiate a
conversation when he’s broke. But when I want chores done it’s a different
The “thing” can also be intangible, like a friendship. How
about people new to an area going out of their way to put forth a friendly
face, then after they’ve built a social base, become snooty?
We shouldn’t make being nice a matter of if.