How to Lose Friends

I once had a sour experience on a class group project. A team was organized to complete a daunting task. We planned to divide the tasks and upon completion we would divide the rewards as well (success in this project meant a financial benefit). An agreement was drafted and we were excited to put it into action. Part-way through the project, several team members saw an opportunity to default on their agreement and restructure the reward scale to benefit themselves. In the end, they walked away with several hundred dollars that would have belonged to other members of the team. What just happened?

Some would argue that they won the game, effectively getting the best return on their investment. They put in a little and received a lot. I beg to differ. As a student of Engineering, I believe in a different principle called the ‘Conservation of Energy.’ In studying Thermodynamics, I quickly learned that you cannot get something from nothing. What did these team members trade in for the money they received? They traded their integrity and their reputation. I may have lost money, but more tragically, I lost respect for these individuals and the ability to trust them. Why is it so tragic?

First, because it is so hard to get back. Money comes and goes easily, but trust is much less flexible. We tend not to forget these things. “Burn me once, then shame on you. Burn me twice, then shame on me.”

Second, because people are the best resource you can have! People have a variety of skills you may need to tap. People write letters of recommendation. People let you borrow their lawn mowers and power tools. They pick up your newspapers when you are out of town. Your teachers, mentors, role-models and heroes are all people. If you are surrounded by people that trust you, then you have something more powerful than money. You have an army at your disposal. People who trust you will be there when you need them.

I have a friend who is amazingly resourceful. Over the years I’ve asked him for permission to borrow bow-ties, shoes, a video camera, a cell phone, a truck, gas cans, tools, an oil pan, blankets, food, stationary, textbooks, toys, a suit, candy, appliances, eating utensils, sports equipment, and a variety of other things. He delivers because he trusts me. If he doesn’t have what I need, he finds it and gets it from someone who trusts him. A lot of people trust him.

Small investments in your people will go so far in the long run. It doesn’t take much to lend a hand… to ask questions… to be interested in others. I haven’t yet gotten around to reading the Dale Carnegie classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (it is at the top of my list) but I will bet that you will find nothing in there about how to manipulate, build leverage, or otherwise take advantage of others. It can take months or years to build up trust and only a few seconds to break it.

The place that fixes my car has earned my trust, and now I won’t go anywhere else. Trust is worth more than money, and trust always pays off… even financially. Businesses know this.

It’s about time we learn it too.