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21 of the Most Insulting Business Requests

on June 13, 2011

Out of college, eager to make it in the business world, I did practically anything just to get recognized: menial tasks, working for free, promoting someone else’s work for free, and involving myself in projects that just didn’t seem all that ethical.

As I got older and more experienced, the “I’ll do anything for your approval” excitement died down. Once you feel established in your industry and know your worth, you don’t need to jump through hoops just to get praise.

Still, that doesn’t stop others from making those requests that step over the line of good taste, professionalism, or what your business and time is worth (see “Stop yourself before making these insulting requests”).

Insulting business requests come in many forms, but you’ll often find, as Amanda Coolong of TechZulu notes, they often begin with the words “Can’t you just?…”

I put a call out to the community to get their best examples of insulting requests. In all cases, the party making the insulting request has been left anonymous. I’ve parsed them out in categories of different types of insulting requests. Who knew there were so many different ways to be rude?

Inappropriate requests

1. I know I’m not on the editorial masthead, but…

Journalist and editor Jesse Stanchak of SmartBrief on Social Media and many other online newsletters thinks it’s quite inappropriate when an interview subject tries to demand quote approval.

I can see where Stanchak is insulted by that, but honestly I’ve agreed to quote approval mostly because the interview subject would refuse to do the interview unless I did it. For me, quote approval has never changed anything in an article.

Where I see interview subject meddling really going over the line is when PR people ask if they can review an article before it’s published. That one blows my mind. It’s as if they’re assuming editorial control of the magazine which they know they shouldn’t have. I guess their attitude is, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” Or it may be a case where the client pressured them to make the approval request. Either way, it damages the relationship with the journalist.

2. If we have to do it, then so do you

Writer Scott Byorum tells the tale of a buyer asking the seller to have their employees submit to a drug test before they bought from them.

3. Can I push you even more?

While helping out on a side project and spending lots of sleepless nights, coder David Rajchenbach-Teller returned to the office only to hear the client say, “You’re not working enough.”

4. This is going to sound weird, but I need you to lie about something

While consulting, Larry Chaffin of Pluto Networks was asked to lie to the employees about what kind of car he drives and that he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

5. Follow my orders exactly as they are written

Before working at Intel, an international journalist approached PR pro Luke Filose (@lfilose) with a demanding request. Filose didn’t know the journalist or his outlet. Regardless, the journalist felt entitled to instruct, not ask, Filose to send him a sample of his product and write $0 for the product’s value so he wouldn’t have to pay customs.

“By not introducing himself or providing any information that would make us prioritize him on our press list, and by implying our product had no value, he encouraged me to ignore the request,” Filose said.

Too much for too little

6. I’m guessing this is how much it costs

Web designer Laura Christianson once had someone ask her, “Can you design and program a high-end website for me for $150?” She wanted to respond, “Sure, and while I’m at it, I’ll write your copy and do your laundry,” but she held her tongue.

While insulting, I can see how such a request could happen. So often I’ve heard clients ask, what does a website cost, which is akin to asking how long is a piece of string. Costs of web development is one of the most misunderstood areas of production.

Five years ago I put out an RFP out for my business site, in which I detailed out exactly what I wanted. I had an explanation of all the elements and a flowchart showing the relations of all the pages. Even with my detailed scope, the 17 bids I got ranged in scope by 20-fold from the lowest to the highest bid.

7. Will you do it for what’s in my wallet?

Aforementioned journalist and editor Jesse Stanchak once had someone ask if he’d edit a 100-page master’s thesis for $20.

Make my life easier

8. Yours doesn’t look like mine, change it

Cindy Nicholson (@LetsJustDance_1) had another boss’ new secretary ask her if she would completely redo her 30+ column job tracker spreadsheet so it would match the secretary’s job tracker spreadsheet.

9. I have a social life, but you don’t, so could you do this?

Joy Powers (@joypowers) had a coworker ask at 4pm on a Friday, “I need to go, but can you get this done for me for my meeting on Sunday?”

Powers actually agreed, cancelled her evening plans, and finished the work.

Upon submitting the work, Powers said, “This needs to be the final last minute request.”

The requester responded, “I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you by buying you a tub of popcorn the next time I see you at the movies.”

Better have a wad of cash at the bottom of that tub.

10. I’m so confused, I just can’t handle it

Consultant Patricia A. O’Malley didn’t change her last name when she got married. The woman who manages her husband’s health insurance asked O’Malley to change her name to make her paperwork easier.

11. I don’t think it’s too early or too far away

Eager to please a potential client no matter how extreme the initial request, David Burk (@burkburk) agreed to meet the prospect at 7am at a location 60 miles from his home. Once he arrived at that absurd hour the assistant’s response was, “Sorry, she’s not here and won’t be all day.”

When Burk followed up to ask where she was, she didn’t respond.

Do work for free

This was the most common “insulting request” response I heard. It aggravates everyone. Unless you’re a non-profit or you’re asking a close friend to do you a favor when you’re starting out, don’t ever ask someone to do work for you for free.

12. We want to pay everyone else except you

Dave (The WireMan) Maskin is a live event artist, who creates interesting personalized sculptures out of wire. Recently someone asked Maskin to come do a gig in NYC free of charge at a very elaborate function. The requester tried to ameliorate the lack of funds by explaining, “There will be lots of lawyers there.”

“Are the caterers, 12-piece band, and the very posh event space offering their services for free,” asked Maskin.

“Of course not,” said the requester.

Maskin declined the gig and the potentially free legal advice.

13. We’re not a charity, but…

Executive consultant Martin Thomas (@tiniuae) has been asked to work for about 1/3 of his fee on the basis of “we do a lot of charity work.”

Thomas’ response, “So do I; but not for big multi-national corporations!”

14. Ads cost money, bloggers are free, right?

Blogger Candice Broom has been approached multiple times a day by paid “social media experts” with the request to “share this information with your readers” for free.

This aggravates me to no end. I’ve had this happen to me multiple times as well, and most notably from one of the most well known social media experts. Read the two part tale (“Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used” and “UPDATE: Bad PR experience story. PR firm’s client is obtuse”).

15. But we’ll say really nice things about you

Digital marketing and media relations expert Jaime Palmucci turned down one potential client who wanted her to discount her rates in exchange for them talking about how wonderful she was on their website. Palmucci had access to their site analytics and knew with certainty that the only visitors were the very rare person using their outdated product or family members.

Now that you’ve done the work, we don’t want to pay

16. If I can’t make up my mind, I shouldn’t have to pay

Christopher Mitchell’s (@devilblue82) client couldn’t make a decision. After endless back and forth changes, the client ultimately asked, “Could you not charge for this because it took so long?”

17. I thought that was included in the price

Aforementioned Scott Byorum had a situation where a client thought an add-on service was included with the basic service, even though it was clearly noted on the order form and in the contract that it wasn’t. That didn’t stop the client from requesting that the add-on be included for free on the past 189 orders. For future submissions the client promised they would “remember” to order the add-on with the basic service.

“I liken it to walking into a burger joint and ordering a burger and then demanding a soda and fries because that’s what you saw in the picture,” Byorum said.

I’m a moron, help me

18. Do the math for me. No seriously, do it.

The accounting department of a major Fortune 100 company contacted Luis Rodrigues’ company, Occu-Med Health Services to inquire about some Canadian taxes. Rodrigues’ team explained that they have some medical services that are billed “tax in” (13%) in order to comply with an interpretation from Revenue Canada.

The person on the phone wanted to know how to see the cost without taxes (a.k.a. “back out the taxes”). Rodrigues’  team once again explained that you simply divide the number by 1.13. The client asked, “How would I know to do that?” and asked Rodrigues’ team to write up a memo explaining how to do the math.

They declined, realizing they shouldn’t be teaching 5th grade mathematics to a Fortune 100 company’s accounting department.

This request doesn’t add up

The one element that’s consistent with all the previously mentioned insulting requests is there’s a clear motive behind them. Sometimes the requests are so odd or so misguided that the motives are in conflict or make no sense.

19. Want a raise? Join my book club

Mark Bromberg’s former boss announced that bonuses for that year would be tied to those who read various self help books he recommended.

20. Do what I say, not what you’re supposed to do

In a past job, Michele Wilcox of Vineyard Virtual Services suffered bullying from someone who was not her boss. The non-boss told her to “just do your job and get it done” even though the “get it done” request flew right in the face of what her real boss wanted her to do.

21. You’ve been so good to us, help us leave you

When Elisha Tropper was president of a packaging company, one of his largest accounts decided to put their business out for bid. In the process, the company asked Tropper’s company, the incumbent for 10+ years, to assemble the artwork and production specifications, annual quantities, and order history for the entirety of their purchases in a format that they could use to solicit bids from Tropper’s competitors. They explained that the job was so complicated and cumbersome that they couldn’t do it themselves, and would Tropper’s company do it for them out of “loyalty.”

More tales of insulting requests

Got a story of your own? Please share. And have you ever been guilty of making an insulting request? Why do you think people do it? Out of desperation? Are they pushed to deliver on something but have to do it with no funds?

For more stories, make sure you check out the beehive of hysterical anecdotes you can find on ClientsFromHell. Tip of the hat to Mia Johnson for recommending this site.

Stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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