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The Illusion of Goodwill: A Non-Radiological Artifact


I’ve long since learned that good faith is far more reliable than, say, contracts.

A couple of jobs ago, I was at a renegotiation crossroads. I’d worked for X amount of time, and rules of engagement needed to be established for the next X, or whatever other interval.

According to conversations from my onboarding with the rad-group, there wasn’t all that much to be determined. Specific numbers hadn’t been nailed down, but a ballpark estimation of usual contractual nuts and bolts (base income, vacation, etc.) had been stated and accepted. Less-tangible things like titles and levels of authority were also supposed to be discussed, but previous jobs had taught me not to count on them. Nice if they happen, no big disappointment if they don’t.

Discussion took a sharply unwelcome turn when they claimed they’d never said anything about the after-X nuts and bolts, and thus didn’t feel obligated to deliver. In other words, my reward for doing well and sticking around was to be no raise at all. I suppose it might have cushioned the blow if they’d offered some intangibles to make up for it, but they didn’t.

After some uncomfortable back and forth, they ultimately said that, as a “show of good faith,” they’d give me a fraction of the upgraded hourly rate they’d mentioned at hiring. It was a poor choice of words for a few reasons, number1 being that reneging was a pretty blatant show of not-good faith.

The job market was very much in my favor, and I could have told them to take/shove their good faith, but I didn’t. I chose to proceed with the illusion of good faith. In my estimation, that illusion can be almost as good as the real thing.

Between firsthand experience in my own career and plenty of secondhand wisdom, I’ve long since learned that good faith is far more reliable than, say, contracts. If you’ve got a strong good-faith relationship with someone—employer, employee, a valued teammate—your contracts with them might sit in a file cabinet without ever needing review. “Hey, remember we agreed on X?” “Yup. No arguments here.” Harmony reigns.

On the other hand, if you’ve got bad faith, the thickest, most legalese-packed contracts, bylaws, and whatever else won’t save you. Someone inclined to do you dirty will find ways, and if you catch/prevent them, that doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying. Standing up for yourself might just increase their hostility and motivate them to find other ways to get back at you.

MORE FROM THE BLOG: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: When It's Time to Move on to the Next Radiology Job

Even if a contract is 100% on your side, they might just have a “go ahead and sue me” attitude, at which point you’re looking at a long, drawn-out process of paying lawyers and waiting on court-dates that always seem to get postponed. Further, if you’re paying your attorney hourly and they’ve got one on salary, they can enjoy dragging their feet forever while you run out of funds and patience.

So what am I talking about when I say the illusion of good faith is almost as good as the real thing? If someone shows you that they aren’t the trustworthy ally you thought they were, isn’t it time to call them on it, and get the heck away from the bad egg?

Maybe, in some situations. Usually, though, I can’t make an instant exit—my contract says I’ve got to give 3 months notice, for instance, or the business venture that’s going sour will take awhile to unwind. For some interval, I’ll still have to transact with the bad-faith individual or organization.

However ugly things have gotten, there’s always a way to make them uglier. One way is to respond to a bad-faith move by making sure the other guy knows you see him for what he is, and that you’re not going to take his abuse lying down. That might be satisfying, but from then on, hostilities are open.

I find it advantageous to keep them under wraps. If I maintain the illusion that my adversary hasn’t completely wiped out the good faith between us, he can still think he has something to lose by misbehaving further. Or, if he hasn’t completely burned our bridges—maybe only taken good faith down to 50% of what it was—he can be motivated to subsequently behave better. I might eventually recover some losses, even if the relationship is never completely repaired.

Imagine you’re in a card game, and you realize that one of the other players is cheating. If you openly accuse him, there’s no going back: He’ll try to defend himself, maybe lash out at you. Others at the table might take either side. The only sure thing is that the game is toast, and you’re never playing with at least the cheater again.

Instead, what if you maintain the illusion that you don’t know he’s cheating? He doesn’t know you know, and that gives you an advantage. Maybe you’ll enjoy punishing him for cheating by dramatically catching him in the act for others to see. Or you use your awareness of his cheating methods to win back some of his ill-gotten loot. Perhaps you simply optimize the timing of your exit, and leave the game with him never knowing you’re on to him. Later, you might quietly tell others of the incident, since that will protect them and let them decide if they want to seek more direct vengeance.

The rad-group I mentioned had previously dinged their good faith in my eyes, in smaller ways. It’d been enough to start me looking around at other opportunities, but I wasn’t quite motivated to go interviewing or give notice of resignation. The bad-faith renegotiation took things down several more pegs, to the point that I was ready to move on. Still, by keeping the illusion of good faith, I was able to take all the time I wanted to appraise my options.

If I’d pounded the table and called them crooks, I’dessentially be giving my notice then and there, starting the clock ticking on when I must be ready to start my next gig. In the meantime, they’d have no reason to maintain an illusion of good faith by treating me with any decency whatsoever.

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