In today’s economy, the question, “How’s business?” could be a loaded one. If your business is struggling, an honest answer may be hard to give. The majority of NY Report’s survey respondents said that how they answer that question depends on the circumstances in which they are asked, but a lie may lead to consequences.
“Lying is never good,” says Steven Spitz, founder and CEO of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, Long Island. “In the end, I think people can tell.” After 17 years in business, Spitz gets a sense of when people answer him honestly—and if they’re not, he says, “I lose a little respect.” Spitz mentions a conversation with one of his vendors who told him business was up more than 50 percent, perhaps to put pressure on Spitz’s company to sell more of their products. “However, after hanging up the phone, I couldn’t help but think, not only did he fib about the numbers,” says Spitz, “but I thought less of him and less of the company, and so ultimately it had the opposite effect of what I believe was his intention.”
Jeannette Boccini, the principal and executive vice president of LVM Group Inc., a Manhattan-based PR firm, agrees. “I don’t see a tremendous amount of value in not being honest with people,” she says. In business, your integrity is valuable, so make it a
However, there’s a time when too much information is just unnecessary. A casual customer asking “How’s business?” may just want to make polite conversation. They don’t want a sob story, or statistics.
Also, don’t miss the opportunity to turn the question around to your advantage. “As a CEO, part of your job is to flip a positive note on to what your company is doing,” says Spitz. Say something like, “Given the economy, our numbers are good.” Most businesses are struggling and will understand if not everything’s coming up roses. Boccini suggests using that opportunity. Say that your figures are getting better, although they’re still not great. Then ask if they know anybody who might need your services. Or, ask if they’ve ever been in a similar situation, and see if they have any advice for you.
In the end, telling the truth, even if it hurts to admit it, creates a bond of trust, as well as opportunity. “You tell the truth; they tell the truth,” says Spitz. “And you both feel a little better for it.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.