Would You Trust Less a Biz Partner Who Cheats on His/Her Spouse?

Someone asked me the other day: Would you trust less a business partner who was cheating on his/her spouse?

Related question: Do you draw a hard line between someone's personal / bedroom conduct and their professional trustworthiness?

My answer to the first question: Yes, I would trust the person less, but I would not dismiss working with him/her out-of-hand. Second question: No, I draw a "soft line" between personal/professional.

I recognize that some people simply lack self-control when it comes to sex but not when it comes to anything else, or so they claim. Still, to me character is character, and if someone can be dishonest in a romantic setting, what else might she be dishonest about in a professional setting?

Culture matters. I was raised in America and Americans seem to care more about fidelity than most people.

In the end trust exists on a spectrum and one must weigh various factors. In a business relationship fidelity is not a deal breaker either way, just a factor among many. In a personal relationship I care more.

[Definitional note on cheating: There's the technical cheat (sleeping with someone other than your monogamous partner) and then there's what Chris Yeh eloquently described to me as "something that's technically allowed but really is just fucked up" — like sleeping with your best friend's ex or sleeping around days after the end of a positive long-term relationship. In the end the semantics doesn't matter. It's about what a person's actions say about their underlying ethics, honesty, and self-discipline and whether bedroom actions speak to these attributes in non-bedroom environments.]

Bottom Line: I think less of a person who cheats on their partner, but in a professional context I do not distrust him/her altogether. I just trust them less.

Related Post: Trust and the Failed State

13 comments on “Would You Trust Less a Biz Partner Who Cheats on His/Her Spouse?
  • Speaking of fucked-up things, I heard the following example:

    Man’s wife dies, leaving him a widower, then contracts cancer.

    Since no one else is around to take care of him, his brother’s wife comes to nurse him.

    Fast-forward a few months, and his cancer is in remission, and his sister-in-law leaves her husband (his brother) to become his lover.

    Now that’s fucked up.

  • I agree with you on this, as usual the standard framework “cheater/noncheater” is not sufficient for judgement.

    The definitions of relationships get in the way.

    For example: what if a man is married but he and his wife aren’t fucking? “Way back when” marriage was defined this doesn’t happen because she has no choice. Now we have better laws but the same definition of marriage. And a sexless business partner is an edgy business partner.

    Another problem is the label of the relationship i.e. “girlfriend” versus the actual relationship. The label does NOT define the relationship, but it defines cheating/fucked-up-behaviour — the relationship is what it is and if its dead its dead whatever you/she calls it.

  • Agreed but if the relationship is truly “dead” then it’s the responsibility for one party to end it so that the label matches reality. And until this change is done, and even for a few weeks after the label is changed, cheating on the person is not acceptable.

  • Cut the ethics. Tough times, fella!

    If the quiz is just plain trusting a biz associate that cheats on her spouse, my position is – her value to the business matters more than with whom does she sleeps with.

    What the heck? She delights the customer with her ingenuity or if her marketing strategy earns the business 3x the quarterly revenue growth, I would rather give her a liberal “swing” allowance!

  • Ben: I think your conclusion is spot-on correct. The French have a term for this, suggesting that sexual matters have no relationship to business or governmental matters. There are a number of strange inconsistencies in the human psyche, and you’ve pointed out one. If we break the norms of conventional ethic in one situation, that need not suggest we’ll break the norms of ethical behavior in another.

  • Giles: As a 25 year veteran of business consulting–and with big ears–I’ve learned that it’s absolutely amazing how porous the business walls can be. It’s all there. One or two hitchikes on a statement and it all floods out. Starts out as rumor, moves to gossip, and then the truth outs itself.

  • And if only a your partner is not willing to satisfy one specific but crucial need, but everything else is just great? And even after long talks no progress has been made in satisfying that need?

    Where else to go but outside the relationship?

  • Could cheaters who lie (particularly those that do not get caught) demonstrate a spike in creativity, self deception, and risk taking? Research has indicated that both are incredibly powerful in attributing the success of managers and entrepreneurs.

    Further, your premise of denigrating cheating based on values of ´our society´is an argument begging moral relativism. It seems you would also extend your suspicions to swingers who openly have extramarital affairs simply because this doesn´t fit into ´our culture,´ whatever that means.

    Barring all of that, the idea that we have one overarching culture whose morality is commonly subscribed to by all is detestable by many. We are a plurality of subcultures, many of which the most profound values (questions of God, knowing, being) conflict with other cultures and are simply incommensurable (see Isaiah Berlin).

    Sure, we don´t sanction extramarital affairs like the French but you must also concede traditional American mores about sex are erratic and contingently mistaken.

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