Dealing With Deadbeats


Today I crossed paths with a deadbeat.

No, it's not the first time. Or the last. But it always surprises me when it happens. I have a pretty positive outlook on life, so it stings when I run into lousy people.

Let me be clear. When I say "deadbeat," here's who I'm talking about: Someone that knowingly owes you something but has no intention of delivering on that promise.

Deadbeats can crop up in a range of situations. In my recent case, it was financial. My company performed a service and this person(s) for whom we provided the service accepted those services with no intention of ever paying. When it was time for the bill to be paid, they claimed they didn't have the money to pay for it.

This is a classic case of "deadbeat," and yet every time I meet one, no matter how well I'm prepared for it, there are three varieties of disgust I always experience:

Disgust in Humanity
Most of us operate under the assumption that most people play by the rules and make promises in good faith. How on earth do these deadbeats get through life? How many other people have they wronged along the way?

Disgust in the Legal System
There is a reason movies like Man On Fire exist. Deadbeats capitalize on the fact that justice can be hard to come by. In my experience with my own business, I'm often owed just enough money that the time, cost and emotional toll of taking someone to court makes legal justice a losing proposition.

Disgust in Myself
A colleague I respect very much often says, "How you do anything is how you do everything." This applies to all of us -- deadbeats included. I often ask myself, "Why didn't I see this coming?" and regret ignoring the behavioral "red flags" I might have noticed.

I've been doing this long enough to know that 99% of people are good, honest souls; I'm not exaggerating that figure. People fall on hard times, funding dries up, and projects fall apart. There are a myriad of reasons someone might not be able to pay a bill or fulfill a promise. This is life, and we should all have the compassion to help others. But there's a key difference between deadbeats and good souls.

Good souls communicate the truth even when it's uncomfortable for them to do so. They are specific and proactive in planning to right the situation, no matter how long it will take. They are embarrassed, show humility, and take great pride in ensuring their reputation isn't harmed no matter how hard that may be.

In the spirit of my aforementioned positive outlook, I'd like to search for the silver lining. Here are the three best things about deadbeats:

Deadbeats Have A Short Shelf Life
You often don't see the same deadbeat twice. Since most people live and die by their reputation, these deadbeats have short shelf lives in their professional and social circles and only survive by jumping around from group to group.

Deadbeats Strengthen Your Process
Call it the Kelly Clarkson Principle (by way of Nietzsche): "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Nothing makes you want to take stock of your internal processes more than an unexpected breach of conduct. Whether you take a moment to reevaluate your deposit policy or adjust contract language, you can use an encounter with a deadbeat to protect yourself in the future.

Deadbeats Incentivize Loyalty
Don't get me wrong; I love working with new people, new projects, new blood! But, nothing makes me more appreciative of longtime, loyal partners than dealing with a deadbeat. I always walk away from a deadbeat with even greater respect and immense appreciation for all the "good eggs" I am privileged to know and work with.

...In my next article, I'll be publishing the names of deadbeats I've met over the years. Imagine that?

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