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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!
Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
We were very
recently in the process of selling our house (and, yes it is finally
sold!), and as part of that process you are required to fill out a “Seller’s
Statement of Property Condition” that lists any issues that may
exist with the house that the prospective buyer should be aware of. We
tried to be diligent and honest in filling out this form. We still feel
this is the best thing to do, but we found that items we stated on this
form raised questions and concerns substantially greater than warranted
by the conditions we described, and resulted in price reductions or
extra work larger than were warranted for “problems” that almost
certainly would not have even been noticed had we not disclosed them.
We got through all of it, but it was stressful and caused us to lose
money. The moral of the story: be honest and get hammered, or, more
succinctly, no good deed goes unpunished!
My daughter, Melissa, is encountering a similar situation at her
workplace. She tries to go out of her way to help people who have
critical needs or are encountering difficult problems. She puts in many
extra hours so that she doesn’t fall behind on her own work, ends up
with an overflowing plate of “highest priority” tasks to do with
insufficient time to do them, and then gets chastised by the same people
who asked her to “do them a favor”. Again, no good deed
This phenomenon happens all the time. You see a problem, report
it, and you end up being called the bad guy rather than the person who
caused the problem. You stop by a car disabled at the side of the road
and get yelled at by the person you are trying to help, or get hit by
debris from another car passing by at that time. You’re a doctor just
walking on the sidewalk when a total stranger drops to the sidewalk.
You administer medical aid to help the person, only to end up getting
sued when problems arise that existed before you stopped and were not a
consequence of your actions. No good deed goes unpunished!
It’s almost enough to make you act like a turtle and withdraw into your
shell and let the world pass you by.
How about at your workplace?
► What happens if you develop project schedule estimates with realistic
milestones, intervals, dependencies, etc., and end up with timeframes
the powers that be don’t like? Are you praised for your diligent and
honest efforts to produce a schedule that truly makes sense and
establishes a realistic prediction of the project outcome? Maybe, if
you have enlightened management. More likely you will be told to change
things to make the schedule come out the way they’d like, without, of
course, changing features, functions, quality, etc. You’ll be told, “Those
tasks shouldn’t take that long!”, or “You don’t really need that
amount of testing!”, or similar pressures to force you to bend to
management’s will. If you push back, then you’re told that you just
don’t see the big picture, or you don’t recognize just how important
this is, or you’re not acting like a team player. [See also
eN-071004 – The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game] Do your
work credibly and thoroughly and you’re the problem! No good deed
► What happens if you are asked to give your honest opinion of
something potentially controversial in a meeting, and then you do so,
but your opinion is not “politically correct” or in line with
that of upper management? Do you get congratulated for your courage in
speaking out on something you know many others agree with you on, but
are afraid to say? Unlikely! More likely, you are told you are simply
wrong, get reamed out by management, and you have now put yourself in a
bad position now and into the future. No good deed goes
You get the idea. So what can you do to avoid getting punished
for doing good deeds?
► Recognize that you know the people you are dealing with. When someone
you implicitly and completely trust asks you to help them out, do so
with the confidence that this person will not then turn around and blame
you if and when something goes wrong. If they do, then that implicit
trust is misplaced and you need to rethink your relationship with that
person (see also
eN-080207 – Trust Me, I’m Not Like The Others!).
► When someone you don’t really know or don’t really trust requests you
to do them a favor, don’t allow yourself to become a chump! Make it
clear at the outset (and even document it in an email or other document
if necessary) that you are attempting to do a good deed for this person,
and that you are not responsible for what unfolds as a result of your
attempt to perform this good deed. Make sure they understand this
completely, and if they go ahead anyway and try to shift the blame to
you, show others the agreement you reached in advance. Letting others
(e.g. your boss) know in advance that you are attempting to help this
person out can also help to immunize you from getting blamed or being
punished for your attempted good deed.
► Be willing to stand up to assaults when you are trying to help someone
out. Like the old saying, “A failure to plan on your part does not
constitute an emergency on my part!”, you should be able to state, “Don’t
blame me for trying to help you out on your problem!” Be
strong! Don’t allow yourself to become the patsy!
Next, take these suggestions to heart when someone does you a favor.
Don’t later go back and try to blame them for problems that may have
come up while they were trying to help you. It was your request for
help, so it shouldn’t be their responsibility in the first place. The
responsibility is yours and you should own it, not foist it off on
others or blame them when things don’t work out (see also
eN-070906 – Show True Professionalism! and
eN-071206 – You Reap What You Sow!). Be a man (or woman)!
How this works out often depends on whether those in command are
rational, logical and/or reasonable, or irrational, illogical,
unreasonable and/or don’t really care. If they’re the former, they will
generally understand and support you. If they’re the latter, you’re
likely screwed. But at least you’ve learned a good life lesson. Going
into a situation with your eyes wide open can help you to avoid learning
the hard way that no good deed goes
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