Honesty: The Best Policy, even if it’s Bad News

My girlfriend and I recently started looking for a new place to live.  After two years spent sharing a small apartment, we’re finally in a position to “move up.”

The first place we looked at was a significant upgrade.  We liked it and thought it might work well for us.  The thing is, compared to our current apartment, practically anything we looked at would seem like a significant upgrade.

It seemed foolish to see only one apartment and immediately sign a lease, so we decided to see at least one more.  We felt that even if we didn’t like the second place we saw, it would at least help solidify our opinion of the first place.

We had this idea rather last minute, and so by the time we finished looking up other local options of similar size with the same amenities, it had gotten late in the day.  Most leasing offices closed shop at 5pm, and 4 o’clock was fast approaching.  As a result, most of the places I called didn’t even answer their phone.  When I finally spoke with someone, she gave me bad news:

“I’m sorry, but we close in an hour and won’t be doing any more tours today.  We can set up something on Monday if you’d like.”

I was anxious to see something immediately.  Weekdays wouldn’t work for us, meaning if we couldn’t see it now we’d have to wait until next Saturday.  Furthermore, I knew that just seeing one more place would help us make a decision about the first place we liked, so I pleaded with her.

“We’re less than ten minutes away.  Are you sure you can’t still show us one of your two-bedroom units today?”

“I’m sorry but we close at 5pm.”

“Well we could leave right now and be there around four.”

She wouldn’t budge.  After the phone call ended, Cassie and I looked at each other and exchanged nasty comments about how that woman was a real bitch.  We impersonated her viciously, saying “Oh I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like doing any more work today.  Won’t you call back some other time, you know, when it’s more convenient for me?”

Still determined to see something today, I called a different place.  I asked this new woman if it was too late for a tour, but she said that it wasn’t.  She took my name and number, and said that she’d be there until 5.  We immediately jumped into my car, and exchanged some more unkind works about that first woman.

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?  Why couldn’t that other woman be as helpful as this one was?”

We arrived at the leasing office, parked, and walked up the path to the front door.  I gave it a pull, but it was locked, so I knocked.  I waited a minute, but nobody came to the door.

I checked the time while knocking again.  Only 4:30.  She said she’d be here until 5, and yet the door’s locked, it’s completely dark inside, nobody’s answering, and my car is the only one in the lot.  Something’s clearly wrong.

I redial the number from my call log, and I hear the phone ringing on the other side of the door.  The machine picks up, infuriates me when it indicates that the office is indeed open until 5, and I slap my phone shut with aggravation.  I stomp across the snow-covered lawn, find a door marked “EMPLOYEES ONLY,” and pound on it angrily.  I realize it’s pointless — it’s clear that whoever I spoke to is no longer there — but I’m aggravated about the situation and keep pounding the door until my fist hurts.

I return to my car, blood boiling, when Cassie says “I’m confused.”

I pause.

“Didn’t you tell her that we were coming right now?”


“So why would she say that if she was planning on leaving before we got here.”

“No idea.”

We ended up waiting around for fifteen minutes.  Nobody showed.  We left feeling annoyed and disappointed.  “Why would she agree to give us a tour if she wasn’t going to wait for us?”

Suddenly, in that moment, I remembered that first woman we talked to.  She no longer seemed like a lazy bitch.  Though she may not have been willing to give us a tour on such short notice, at least she wasn’t afraid to tell us “No.”  She knew that it was too late, and so she honestly said “Sorry, that won’t work — it’ll have to be another time.”

The second woman, on the other hand, must not like giving people bad news — and so she just lied to us.  Consequently, she got our hopes up for a moment, but ended up wasting our time and making us angry.

I find it fascinating how the first woman, who I initially disliked and unscrupulously badmouthed, turned out to be the more helpful one.  In hindsight, she basically reinforced the notion that “Honesty is the best policy.”

Of course, it’s hard to employ that in daily life.  I know that at least once a week, some sales person calls our office offering some kind of service we’re not interested in.  Rather than just tell him “Sorry, we’re not interested because we’re satisfied with the great service provided by one of your competitors,” we all take turns lying:

“Sorry, I don’t have the ability to make that decision.” (Even though I actually do.)

“Sorry, you’ll have to speak to my supervisor, who’s unavailable.” (Even though he’s currently giving me the thumbs up.)

After that it just kind of snowballs out of control.  Whenever our Caller ID says “Caller Out of Area” we know it’s that sales guy we don’t want to talk to, so we tried just letting it go to voicemail.  Instead of leaving a message we’d never return, the persistent son of a bitch dialed zero, talked with the front desk, learned that the person he needed to talk to was in fact at his desk, and asked to be transferred.

All of this time wasting nonsense could have been avoided if we had just chosen to be honest, even though it’s not what he wants to hear.  Or is it?  Maybe what we imagine to be “Bad News” is actually not bad to him at all — at least it’s a definite “No,” allowing him to cross us off his list of potential clients.

Having observed all of this, I did something a bit out of character when that woman who stood us up called my cell phone this week.  She identified herself, I asked “Oh is this the place on <Street A> off of <Street B>?”

“That’s correct.”

“Oh alright.  Actually whoever I spoke to on Saturday said that we could come by anytime before 5.  We showed up at 4:30 but nobody was there.  It was actually kind of frustrating since we ended up driving out there for nothing.”

“Was it possible she stepped out to give a tour?  Was there a sign on the hook on the front door?”

“Nope, no sign.  I knocked on the front door and back door, tried calling the number, and waited around for 15 minutes, but no one showed.  It really left a bad first impression on us, and we’re no longer interested in renting at <your apartment complex>.  I do appreciate you following up, though.”

Incredibly, her response was:  “Thanks for being honest.”  We exchanged parting words, and then went on with our respective workdays.

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3 Responses to “Honesty: The Best Policy, even if it’s Bad News”

#1 Pavel on 11, Feb, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Good… anything to you!

I just want to say Hello from Russia, and a very-very big THANK YOU from me! I knew about your blog near week ago, and read mostly all of it during stayihg dead ay my work. You writing very good things, you made me know what i like.

Thank you very much, I’ll be waiting for your new posts!

#2 twenty-six on 15, Feb, 2009 at 9:11 am

i spent all weeks to read your articles..so nice and motivate..

by the way, its hard to say “no, you can’t come here right now because i am to busy”

honestly is just something that we lost long time ago…

#3 Jenny Talbot on 17, Feb, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Looking for an apartment or place to live can be so frustrating – so many highs and lows! I feel for you!

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