Scepticism

Published: Mar 28 , 2014
Author: Stephen White

News pictures of distraught relatives of the passengers on flight MH370, missing now for more than 2 weeks, bring home an uncomfortable truth. Even in the light of technological detective work which broke new ground and determined beyond reasonable doubt that the plane had ditched in a remote part of the South Indian Ocean, many of the bereaved are unconvinced, and say they will remain sceptical until physical evidence of the plane in the sea is produced.

The problem is not just about the acceptance of evidence which is technology-based. On an emotional level of course we understand why the family members cling to any last vestige of hope that their loved ones are still alive. But their scepticism runs deeper than that. Perceived secrecy and information delay by Malaysian Airlines, and the governments of Malaysia and China, has bred distrust. It is likely that only pieces of debris recovered from the sea bearing the airplane's logo will change their view.

There are business parallels. Managers from the advertising sector I was with this week complain about clients whose everyday mantra is that their budgets have been cut. A typical response to any fee proposal, however realistic, is met with an insistence that only half that amount is available. No evidence is offered, and despite deep distrust by the supplier none is asked for, because that is tantamount to calling them 'liar'. Similarly claims that a competing supplier is cheaper, or a competing buyer has offered more, are mundane, but requests for evidence are normally met with a polite refusal on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

We want to believe that the people we deal with in business are honest and that we can trust their word, but we all recognise the naïveté of that position. The increasing frequency of 'preconditioning' by both buyers and suppliers, particularly the use of threats and sanctions (delisting, refusal to supply, cancellation of preferred terms etc. if the other party does not agree to some unpleasant demand) which the demander has no authority to make or intention or ability to pursue only reinforces the adversarial expectation.

Lack of evidence produces scepticism, which in turn sours relationships and produces poorer deals. Negotiators must remember this when deciding the appropriateness of hiding information.

We join with the world in offering our condolences to those who have lost loved ones in this tragic plane crash.

Stephen White


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