Recently, one of my students suggested a topic for discussion as an example of a typical ethical situation in one’s daily life. Ethics don’t have to be relegated to “big” issues of capital punishment, cloning of humans, the misuse of technology or the right to life. Something as mundane as hiring a plumber to repair a kitchen faucet can have ethical ramifications. We decided to take it all the way and create a guide for consumers who plan to hire outside labor for any purpose. It is all about what to do when the repair person or tech, as the case may be, gives you a sales pitch to upgrade. He sees dollar signs and you see an empty pocket. You think you are dealing with one job and now it is about an expenditure. This happens so often in used car lots, mattress stores and the plastic surgery business. You have an idea of what you want and suddenly you are being coerced into more and better. A slick salesman can hide in the body of a plumber for sure.

Staying with the examples of the best kitchen faucets, the ethics guide also pertains to the parameters of truth regarding a product. How much is the plumber or salesman obligated to share with prospective buyers? Do you reveal only the best features and benefits and leave out any drawbacks? Some of them are minor such as “the faucet only comes in two finishes.” Others are more serious along the lines of “you must replace the washer once a quarter.” In ethics class, we always say that honesty is the best policy, a corny but still relevant truism.

Ethics for the Consumer

Ask as many questions as you want to find out all sides of the situation whether it be repair or the purchase of a product. You are entitled to know the good and the bad to make the best decision. It is foolish to trust someone just because they call themselves an “expert.” Getting letters of recommendation and testimonials will tell you volumes. It is naïve to be overly trusting although it is human nature to accept someone at face value. Find a balance between gullibility and blind faith.

Ethics for the Salesman

You owe it to your customers to be truthful in all matters as a matter of pride and respect. They will find out any drawbacks or hidden surprises soon enough. They will trust your honesty and conclude a sale for the right product if you are forthcoming. Some products are a better value than others. If you focus on your income and not customer needs, you are unlikely to get repeat business. If you leave out important details and the customer is suspicious, you will not make a sale of any type. Start with an ethical position and you will end in success. No self-respecting salesman should want to “trick” a prospective buyer if the product is not right.