I encountered a fellow Australian businessman while attending a keynote speaking engagement in the Annual conference for entrepreneurs in Dubai last July. After completing my assignment, I headed to the airport and by sheer coincident I met Steve (Not his real name) again in the departures' terminal. We continued the spirited conversation we started the evening before at the networking event that followed the conference. As it happened he had booked on the same flight with me to Brisbane. We exchanged business cards and agreed it would be a great idea to stay in touch.
As I preceded to the check-in counter, Steve came rushing to me asking if I can lend him $95USD as he had extra luggage and his ticket only allowed him 30k. Apparently, his credit card has topped, maybe from buying the extra load of gifts and he did not have the cash on him!
I hesitated for a moment. Could I trust him to pay me back? I wondered!
I'd just met Steve and knew very little about him. He'd been talking about the success he was having in his business and I concluded it was a low risk. It was only $95, after all, so if he didn't end up sending me the money, it was no big deal.
I took my credit card out of my wallet and headed to his counter and paid the $95. He said "Thanks so much," and hurried into the terminal.
A few weeks went by and I heard nothing from Steve. Then one day he called and said, "Hey, I owe you some money! Where should I send the check?"
I gave him my mailing address, and he thanked me again for bailing out a fellow Aussie at the airport that day. The check arrived within a couple of days and the next week we deposited it.
I felt good about my decision to help Steve out...and about him... that is, until I got a notice from my bank a few days later saying that his check had bounced and the bank had charged a $20 fee to my account. So now I was out $115!
I called Steve and told him what happened. He sheepishly responded, "I know."
You know?! You mean you already knew the check had bounced and you didn't have the guts to call and tell me? You took the coward's way out and let me find out from my bank so I had to call YOU? What were you thinking?!
I screamed all this inside my head, not to him. Because his next words were, "I'm not very good at managing my money. It turns out I didn't have enough cash in my bank account to cover the check."
What I actually said, after taking a deep breath, was, "Gee, Steve, that's too bad. What needs to happen now is for you to send me a cashier's check or money order for $115, to cover the $95 you owe me, plus the $20 bank fee. I'm not willing to risk getting another personal check from you. I'm sure you can understand."
"Yes, of course. I'll get that to you right away," he assured me.
Four weeks passed. Nothing.
I sent him a short email note, just a reminder that I was expecting a cashier's check or money order and had not received it.
It was no longer a matter of the money. It was the principle. His actions violated one of my core values: Honor your promises. Do what you say you'll do.
Two weeks later I left another voicemail and emailed him again. This time he actually called back.