Meanness: How to lose friends and really annoy people

Is it just Irish people who hate meanness or is this a universal trait? I heard a dinger of a story a couple of weeks back which is worth repeating here – with some details changed to protect the guilty. The Dad of family B related this tale – otherwise I probably would have thought it was a made-up, ‘shaggy dog’ story.

Two families, who know each other in Ireland, met by chance on holidays overseas. Their teenage sons got on well and hung out together (in family ‘peace’ terms, this is worth its weight in gold – as any parent of a teenager will attest). Family A was moving on to another location and suggested that they would bring the ‘friend’ on the 2nd leg of their journey. Family B agreed. Everyone was happy. And, that’s the end of chapter one.

The Bill: About 2 weeks after they had all arrived home safely, family B received an itemized bill from family A – detailing the costs incurred in having their son with them for the week. Along with itemized expenses like ‘canoeing’ and ‘dinner costs’, amazingly, it also included 20% of the car hire cost for the week. I kid you not. In total, the bill came to a couple of hundred euros.

The mother in family B was outraged. She wanted to send a counter bill (they had looked after the son from Family A the previous year –as a freebie – and she wanted to deduct those expenses). The father was equally annoyed but didn’t want to allow his own behaviour be dictated by anyone else. Eventually, they paid up. But neither the families, nor the 2 boys, have stayed in touch since. Now, that’s a surprise!

The Lesson: Meanness on this scale is patently stupid – and few people would be crass enough to make such an entry-level mistake. But, are you making similar mistakes? At the bar, are you hanging back on buying the first round? Are you deliberately sneaking into the number 2 position on the lunch queue? Are you recycling Christmas presents – passing on unwanted gifts that have no connection with the recipient? (if you didn’t want it, they probably won’t want it either).

Being tight with money is a trip-wire in interpersonal relations. People will forgive you for being a bit sexist (unless you work for Sky Sports), hogging the conversation or scoring a ‘B’ for empathy when they are feeling a bit moany. But being tight is a no-no. In Ireland, while often unspoken, it’s the unforgiveable sin.

While you don’t have to buy friends, going Dutch is the minimum standard. Anything less and you risk being negatively labeled (where I grew up the handle of choice was ‘moocher’). And, what’s the potential upside? If you really went out of your way to save all the money you could by being tight for an entire year, how much could you actually squirrel away? €500? A grand – if you were really good at it. In other words, the payoff is light, definitely not worth the risk.

Being decent is the ‘get-out-of-jail’ card for a lot of misdemeanors. For anyone interested in putting an executive career together – you have been warned!

Paul Mooney

PS If anyone wants to take my (now teenage) son Cillian on holiday, I will gladly pay. In this particular case, price is not an issue…

Take me on holidays?

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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