Every business owner wants to avoid entanglements with unscrupulous partners, employees or associates. If you make a mistake, your misplaced trust can end up destroying everything you've worked so hard to build.
What are the signs, though, of business professionals who may have ethical issues? Experts say to watch for these cues:
1. They avoid dealing face-to-face as much as possible. Conversations by email or phone make it easier to hide deceptions. The reader or listener can't pick up on any facial cues that might subconsciously reveal the truth.
2. They distance themselves from the company they represent. By saying, "the company thinks --" they reject responsibility, acting as if they have no control over matters. That makes it easier for them to hide from liability if things go wrong.
3. They redirect conversations when you ask too many questions and never seem to give definitive answers. They're masters of distraction -- to the point where it might not occur to you that you never got your answer until they're out of the room.
4. They use hyperbole in their rhetoric. Nothing is ever merely "good" or "bad." It's always "the best," "awesome," "horrible," or "the worst." The exaggeration is designed to coax you into sharing their views without too much investigation on your part.
5. They see rules as something "made to be broken." Their confidence actually comes from a sense of entitlement. Rules are for lesser mortals and "suckers." This is a particularly dangerous thought process because they often believe they're smart enough never to get caught.
6. They have questionable personal habits. While there's nothing wrong with enjoying a few hard-earned luxuries, watch out for someone that seems to throw money around. That indicates they don't really respect the labor that went into making that money -- possibly because they didn't expend that much getting it.
Choose your business relationships carefully. Always remember that someone who is willing to engage in deceptive business practices with someone else won't hesitate to do the same to you in the future if it serves his or her purposes. That's the best way to keep a Bernie Madoff-like person from entering your sphere.
Most of the time, experts say the signs that a business associate is unethical are there. People just convince themselves otherwise because the unethical can also be the most engaging and charismatic people around.