Life Business Lessons

Getting Respect from Bullies to Bosses

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Tips to Influence Everyone from Your Bosses to the Office Bully

Ever feel like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield — that no matter what you do at work you just “can’t get no respect?”

From the bully in the cubicle next to you to a boss who seems oblivious to your accomplishments to the people reporting to you who are loathe to make any tough decisions themselves, your day at the office carries more baggage than the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws. Yet every moment of the day when we are interacting with other human beings, there is an opportunity — if not a pressing need — to assert our influence and move closer to our various goals by cooperation of others.

What follows is a list of five circumstances in which you may find yourself interacting with the incumbent players and actors these situations feature, any of which can either stand in the way or provide critical support for your various goals and objectives.

Entire books could be written about each of these situations, but my goal was to give you at least one way of exerting influence that tilts the odds of success in each of these situations or contexts in your favor. You’re well advised to seek out additional resources, but the following should give you a start.

1. Influence with Bullies

Whether you work for one, have one on your team, or live with one, bullies can make life miserable, send productivity and morale at work into a tail-spin, and cause lasting psychological damage to victims of such harassment.

Some causes for bullying have been identified as poor problem solving skills, low self-esteem, as well as the drive for power, status and even affection.

While you don’t want to respond to a bully’s aggressive behavior in kind — meaning you lash out in the same way — it can be effective to call the bully on unacceptable behavior and let it be known you are documenting each incident of the harassment you experience. Keep your emotions in check and respond calmly and with reason to bullies. Seek feedback from your professional and social network and bolster your ranks of allies, so that when it comes to a showdown you have solid support, not to mention witnesses on your side. Bullies often display poor emotional intelligence and a lack of effective problem-solving in interpersonal conflicts and relationships in general. Improving your own emotional intelligence by better managing your emotions in response to bullying and approaching relationship strife in creative ways will help you become a less attractive victim to the bully.

If you’re in a supervisory situation, make clear that you will not tolerate bullying from anyone, and that you will set and enforce a standard of respectful behavior in the workplace. Incorporate emotional intelligence components when training new hires and new leaders, and intervene immediately to disrupt any bullying behaviors.

Finally, lead by example. Treat colleagues with respect, and  model the behavior for others to follow.

2. Influence in Meetings

Meetings — from online to in-person gatherings — are a necessary byproduct of business and the professions. And whatever the objective for the meeting, one critical aspect whether you lead or participate is that you want others to pay attention to what you have to say. Here’s an influencing strategy that’ll help increase your chances of that happening in your next meeting.

Scientists call it the ‘recency’ effect which means that we are wired to pay particular attention to the most recent information, minimizing in importance any information received earlier. Imagine the scenario of your manager going around the table asking for input and your idea gets heard somewhere half-way around the group; the best way to take advantage of the recency effect then is to take the opportunity at the end when everyone was heard, to reiterate your point by restating it in a different way — leaving the group to hear your idea as the most recent and most focused on.

Whether it’s a decision you want others to make, an important feature you want to highlight or a call to action you want others to heed, to be most influential it pays to have the last word.

3. Influence in Teams

The old cliche “there is no I in team” might be correct in literal terms, but as anyone who’s ever been a part of team knows, teams are always made up of individuals; each with their own style, cultural background, experience, and preference for how to work. One way to exert influence in teams is to make sure attendant differences and diversity serve as sources of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking and where various perspectives are highly valued.

Gender balance in mixed teams is also something to watch for to increase team influence. Research shows that teams where neither gender’s presence serves as tokenism — i.e. one woman on a team of seven, and where no-one feels like a minority — perform much better than those where gender imbalance is obvious. If you can staff or at least recommend teams with a gender ratio of at least 60-40, chances for team success increase profoundly.

4. Influence with Peers

We all know and criticize those who talk too much, but how often are people criticized for listening too much? It’s unheard of, because most of us lean towards talking rather than listening.

A rarely employed skill then, active listening, and one you can employ with ease to influence your peers. Start by paying attention to their body language, the attitude in the tone of their voice, and listen for meaning as you concentrate on what they’re saying. Respond with appropriate comments, as questions and confirm with the speaker that you understand what she is saying. Skip jumping to conclusions in favor of hearing the speaker’s conclusions, but feel empowered to reflect on what the speaker is saying and, again, ask for clarification when needed.

Keep in mind, too, that everyone comes to work with their own set of experiences and perceptual filters, and don’t assume in haste that everyone else shares your worldview. Be conscientious in respecting the individuality of your peers and don’t let your personal differences turn into professional disagreements. Attention and respect are some of the most influential communication strategies you can employ with your peers.

5. Influence with Peers

Workers tend to be both happier and more productive the more autonomy they’re given — but what counts as autonomy may vary across organizational and national cultures.

To have more influence with direct reports it makes good sense to focus on autonomy as an important contributor to productivity and success.

In this context a manager could give a group autonomy to organize themselves in order to meet important objectives; one could also discuss with an individual contributor what standards should be set and how the contributor expects to meet them. Another scenario would look at how teams might work with supervisors both in defining goals and determining how to meet them. The overall goal should be to give people a sense of freedom and control in their contributions, so you need to devise ways that fit your organizational culture and objectives.

Autonomy can work hand-in-hand with accountability, mainly by empowering people to meet and report on their own progress toward set standards. Your interactions with employees and colleagues will be far more productive if you treat them as partners in achieving goals and give them the resources to do so.

6. Influence with Bosses

Engage your boss. Come out from that far cubicle and demonstrate that your work is connected to her goals. Whether you’re a new hire or a veteran employee, ask to meet with her to discuss what she wants the organization to achieve, and suggest ways in which you can aid in that achievement.

We often go to bosses for feedback on our behavior — and it’s important to do so on an ongoing basis — but instead of asking her to review you, offer to review yourself. In other words, don’t wait for her to notice you, but put yourself forward and make yourself known.

This isn’t about “kissing up,” but about recognizing and respecting her leadership. She’ll have her own agenda (everybody does!) within the organization, so your ability to work with her in carrying that agenda forth will mark you as a reliable colleague. Furthermore, by working with your boss in an ongoing fashion, if you do err she is likely to see that in context of all the good work you’ve done — rather than noticing you only when you make a mistake.

Make yourself visible, offer yourself as reliable, and when an important project or promotional opportunity arises, she’ll think of you.

Influence Your Way to Success

This list may not make your family holidays any easier, but as far as getting some respect at the office, you just may have a shot at success.

Recommended Reading

Thank you for reading. We hope you enjoyed this article and as an added bonus, the Salary.com editorial staff has compiled a recommended reading list:

 

 

Evil People Seem to Prosper

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A while back I wrote on self worth and what we can learn from Major League Baseball players. One of the topics I wrote about was Michael Young and his being moved around. He asked to be traded since he was being “manipulated and mistreated.” The results? The Rangers have since gone to the World Series TWICE.

In 2008 I helped my wife  and her friend start a business together selling a certain line of products. I built the website for no pay as well as paid for some advertising. Nothing was in writing since the personal relationship between my wife and her friend was “very chummy.” The only things in exchange were for a) a small percentage of online sales, and b) access to this friend’s line of suppliers. Well, guess what? She reneged on her end of the bargain, nixed the site, and is now living in a mansion with her husband!

I have personally given free advice to countless people for no pay, expecting them to sign on with me. The results? They wouldn’t sign on with me, go to their friend, and have that friend do what I suggested!

Am I the only bozo here that doesn’t get it? As long as bosses make money who cares how others are treated?

 

Demanding a Raise

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Q. I have a hard-working worker who is demanding more money. Do I have to negotiate with him?

A. This is probably the most common question I get: workers who feel they are underpaid and would like to compel their employers to pay what they are truly worth, and employers who face employees who insist on it.

Most authorities agree that the underlying employment paradigm in the Talmud and Jewish law is at-will employment, meaning that the sides are obligated only by their work agreement. The employer is free to discharge the employee at any time, assuming the agreed-upon employment period is done (usually this is a month, though often there is a requirement for more than a month of notice), and the employee is free to quit any time, even before the employment period is over.

Another principle of Jewish law is that work agreements are assumed to be according to local law and custom. Since most common law countries also have a rule of at-will employment, if you live in such a country, then the underlying paradigm and the validation of secular law would give two reasons to give you the right to discharge your employee according to your best business judgment.The Talmud relates in a number of places the situation you describe: where the employee is convinced that the true value of his work is higher than that agreed upon.In one case, the Talmud speaks of a case where a wage of four zuz is common and it is possible to demonstrate that the employer would have been willing to pay four zuz had the workers insisted. But the workers agreed to work for only three.

The conclusion is that the workers are not entitled to four zuz; rather, the payment is according to the original agreement. However, the passage also relates that if the employer was freely willing to offer four and the manager, of his own initiative, decided to squeeze the workers down to a wage of three, the workers are justified in harboring resentment towards the manager.(1)In another place, the Talmud relates a case where the wage bargain was made at the going rate, but in the middle of the contract period the wage rises. As a result, the workers begin to complain, and the boss convinces them to stay on with some vague non-committal comment. (We may imagine that he says something like, “I’ll make some changes to make it worth your while to stay.”) The conclusion is that this does not constitute a promise to match the new market wage; rather, the employer can fulfill his obligation with some minor improvement in working conditions. (The Talmud gives the example of giving larger meals.)(2) We learn that the boss is not obligated to re-open the original agreement, but is also seems that some degree of meeting the employee halfway is justified.I think the conclusion for your case is as follows: If you think there is some merit to the employee’s demands – he is, in fact, making less than the going wage, like the workers in the Talmudic passages – it is a good idea to agree to negotiate. In both cases the Talmud seems to indicate that the ideal outcome involves some concessions to the worker. But the worker is in no sense entitled to a raise, and he cannot demand or insist on one. If you don’t think the demand is justified, there would not seem to be any ethical requirement to discuss the matter.

Of course the worker is a free actor is well, and is totally within his rights to make whatever demands he likes and to quit if they are not made. If your worker does a good job it is may be simple good business sense to make him happy. But he does not have the ability to agree to stay on yet compel the employer to meet his demands, even if they are reasonable ones.

Sources: (1) BT Baba Metzia 76a; Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 332:2. (2) BT Baba Metzia 77a; Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 332:5.

This article originally appeared on OU Torah.

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir is one of the Jewish world’s best-known lecturers and educators in the area of business ethics. Rabbi Dr. Meir is known by a wide audience from his “[email protected]” column in the Jerusalem Post, through the popular syndicated column “The Jewish Ethicist,” and through his lectures and books. His extensive background includes a Harvard education and obtaining a Ph.D. in economics from MIT. 

Ricky Romero vs Tim Hudson – the Big Loss

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On June 20th, 2011, in an interleague MLB game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves, each teams’ ace pitched. Ricky Romero of the Jays was against Tim Hudson of the Braves. The game was a pitchers dual. Neither team gave up a run for 8 innings until Tim Hudson, the opposing pitcher and traditionally the worst hitter on a team, went up to bat. Guess what? He homered! Of all the hitters to hit a home run on the powerful Braves staff, the pitcher hit the home run! Ricky Romero was visibly devastated by this. Due to his frustration on the Jays scoring very little for him – 13 runs in his last 9 starts – he spoke out against his team later on.

What separates Ricky Romero, a young pitcher, from Roy Halladay, a more seasoned pitcher, is that when Roy Halladay pitches and gives up a home run to anyone, he doesn’t let anyone know of his frustration. That makes the other team think he still has something up his sleeve. But as soon as a pitcher like Ricky Romero shows his frustration, that’s when the opposing team knows that they got him.

After another frustrating day at work, my boss gave me this lesson to explain that, while I may be frustrated with the results of my team around me, I can’t show it. Showing it displays weakness and when others can pounce on me. My response to that, though not to his face, is that I realize that I’m doing everything I can, but like Ricky Romero, I’m only one person on a team. The rest of the team needs to step up as well in order for everyone to win.

 

Self Worth and What We Can Learn from Major League Baseball Players

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Sure, sports players earn millions of dollars, but as the old cliche goes, money isn’t everything. We see repeated cases of players, actors and musicians, each of whom have earned millions of dollars leading down the path of drugs and illicit affairs just to get a rush.

Therefore, there needs to be a balance between earning a solid living and the feeling of self worth, like you provide value to the employer you’re working for. Otherwise, you feel worthless despite your riches.

This can come in different varieties.

  1. You work and work and work and the boss takes all the credit (happens most of the time), then get shuffled around.
  2. You feel you’ve done everything to help your organization move forward, and you feel the appreciation, but you don’t see it growing.
  3. Your job takes you away from more important things like family time, which makes you question your priorities.

Being a Major League Baseball (MLB) fan, I find three players that stick out in fitting these molds perfectly, Michael Young, Roy Halladay, and Andy Pettitte.

Michael Young, Texas Rangers

Save for the money (who doesn’t like money), not a lot of people envy Michael Young’s position. Drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2000, he has been a consistent force in a sea of change over the last 10 years for the Rangers. A man with integrity, Michael Young has played the game without any allegations of HGH Steroids or the like. His batting average is above .300, he normally hits 20+ home runs per year, and can field multiple positions. So much so that he has played second base almost exclusively for 3+ years, then was moved to shortstop, and then 3rd base. Recently, with the acquisition of Adrian Beltre, the Rangers once again asked him to switch positions, this time to 80% Designated Hitter (DH), 20% in a super utility role.

Originally he was all right with the change, but that wasn’t his ideal role. After giving it some thought, he finally requested to be traded recently. The moving of positions, along with empty promises and behind the back actions has caused Mr. Young to feel “manipulated and misled.” In his own words:

“I want to be traded because I have been manipulated and misled in this process and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Who can blame him?

Nolan Ryan’s Rangers are the ones who brought about this process. Since being in the World Series last year for the first time, they let pitcher Cliff Lee get away and allowed Vladimir Guerrero leave via free agency to the Baltimore Orioles. It seems that the front office is too far behind in handling player relations in 2011.

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Update – August 4, 2012: The result was the Rangers getting into 2 straight World Series.

 

Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

Roy Halladay also epitomizes good old fashioned hard work and values in my opinion. Brought up by the Toronto Blue Jays to the bigs in 1998 (5 years after the Jays won a World Series), Roy Halladay has proven over time to be a sturdy, complete pitcher who strikes out players, throws complete games and sometime shutouts with relative regularity in this day in age where the bullpen has taken on a larger role, and tries to stick with one team through thick and thin.

However, until 2010 Roy Halladay and his Blue Jays didn’t even get into the playoffs, let alone the World Series. After 12 years and seeing no effort by Blue Jays brass to develop new players, Halladay said to them that while he loves Toronto and the fans, he’s not getting any younger and really wants to a) pitch for someone who has a fair shot at the playoffs and possibly World Series, and b) see how much money he could make in the open market.

Who could blame Roy Halladay? He worked hard for 12 years without seeing team results. Also, as impressive as his numbers are, they could have been even better had he had better run support.

So, the Blue Jays granted his request and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. For the first time in his professional career Roy Halladay got to pitch games that truly mattered. He even pitched two no-hitters, one of them being in the playoffs. 2010 was perhaps arguably the best season of his career, and in no small part was it due to self worth.

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Update: Halladay pitched 2 no-hitters, won a Cy Young award, and a World Series entrance since then.

Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees

Andy Pettitte pitched most of his career with the Yankees, won 5 World Series with them, and was in the playoffs almost every year where he became known as a “big game” pitcher. Yeah, he made millions of dollars as well. However, he also realized that with each season pitching, he was another year removed from his family which was growing up and slowly growing away from him. His kids were getting older and progressing into adults, and his wife wasn’t getting any younger, either.

Andy made the decision to not let life slip away from him while he was devoting his time and energy to the Yankees. With 240 wins and lots of memories, here’s to you, Andy, for devoting the rest of your life to those that truly know your value.

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Update – August 4, 2012: The result is that he reappeared a year later only to get injured mid-season.

New York City Sanitation Department Cleanup – Additional Comments

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I wanted to post this last week, but was sick with the flu and cold and therefore was in no condition to blog. I needed to rest in order to get better.

Now that I’m in better shape to type, I have some additional comments with regards to the recent issue regarding the sanitation workers’ decision to respond very slowly to the snowstorm. Their decision ultimately cost lives, as people DIED from the slow response to the storm. Someone needs to be held accountable for those deaths.

This has been a mess that I feel everyone, including the Mayor, should be held accountable for. No one’s an angel here, but how many people see it from the point of view of the Sanitation workers? They’re taken for granted and rarely thanked for the jobs they do.

I also doubt that the workers thought this thing completely through. Do you think that had they known that this action would cost people lives, that they would have done such a thing? Again, the entire affair demonstrates a) how communication between all channels is key, and b) how far New York has to go to get back to where it was in terms of response time for emergencies like this one. In the end, we have to realize that everyone here is a killer, from the sanitation worker to the Mayor.

And in light of my recent comments, I admittedly realize now that living in Toronto the past 3.5 years has made me out of touch with the situation. My stance may undoubtedly have been different should I have experienced the delayed response in New York with everyone else. Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective allows me to be objective, but also doesn’t allow me to see the full scope of the disaster.

New York City Sanitation Department’s Slow Snow Cleanup was a Budget Protest

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News Scoop:

New York City Sanitation Department’s Slow Snow Cleanup was a Budget Protest. According to the New York Post, the workers selfishly slowed down the cleanup in order to pad more overtime hours. Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, in light of a recent slew of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens) told the Post that he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department, as well as two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan, at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from citizens.

The snitches “didn’t want to be identified because they were afraid of retaliation,” Halloran said. “They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file.”  The snow-removal snitches said they were told to keep their plows off most streets and to wait for orders before attacking the accumulating piles of snow.

The workers said the work slowdown was the result of growing hostility between the mayor and the workers responsible for clearing the snow.

In the last two years, the agency’s workforce has been slashed by 400 trash haulers and supervisors — down from 6,300 — because of the city’s budget crisis. And, effective tomorrow, 100 department supervisors are to be demoted and their salaries slashed as an added cost-saving move.

My take on it

Personally, at the risk of sounding cold and callous, I fully support the Sanitation Worker’s decision to bail out on the city. To demote people and slash salaries is demeaning at any occupation, let alone that of a Sanitation Worker. What gets people to still sign up for this job that nobody wants is the high pay. To take that away in the name of the economic and city crisis is not a way to motivate employees who have to deal with other s**t, literally.

Therefore, once s**t hits the fan, so to say, it’s warranted. Slashing salaries from hard workers so the Mayor can enjoy his limo rides is not the way.

However, this is not the first time that Sanitation workers striked, so to say. For a change, I’m agreeing with them. However, there were incidents in the past that were despicable.

Toronto’s Garbage Strike in the Summer of 2009

Toronto, a city known for its cleanliness, was hit with a curveball when the city’s Sanitation department went on strike during a hot Summer period in 2009 demanding more pay and benefits. When they were told no, they essentially made the city stink by not picking up any garbage for weeks. In order to combat this, people had to manually drive their garbage up to dumps. To add insult to injury, the sanitation department’s workers manned the land fills, limiting the amount of garbage to be brought in. The backs of people’s cars stank for months as a result.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the locals, as hot weather makes rotten things stink faster and attract flies.

I still remember a couple of entrepreneurs who made a killing during that period by renting a U-Haul truck and picking up everyone’s garbage at $5 a bag! This was a service few people could pass up. I also remember the amount of home-made fly traps we made with rotten strawberries to trap the hundreds of flies in our apartment at the time.

NYC Transit Strike of 2005

In 2005, New York City Transit workers went on strike over the same thing: money and benefits, during the cold of Winter, on December 20th. The strike lasted 3 days and essentially crippled the city, which heavily relied on the transit system to commute to and from work.

NYC workers playing Chess in the snow

Roger Toussant was the person behind the entire scheme, and was rewarded by Mayor Mike Bloomberg with a 10 day jail sentence. In addition, Mayor Bloomberg fined the union $2.5 million and suspension of automatic due deductions to all members.

***UPDATE***

Here’s a video of Assemblyman Dov Hikind and his take on the City’s (and Mike Bloomberg’s) failure to react to the blizzard, crippling New York for 3 days:

Swear Jar – I’ll Buy Three Swears, One Curse and a Taboo for $1.35

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Who doesn’t remember the ol’ swear jar? The idea was simple in that by paying money for each time you swore, you would begin to swear less, ultimately ceasing to swear altogether.

At one of my previous workplaces there was a swearing issue among the employees, and they would swear loudly. When sales reps were on the phone, potential clients would hear the curses in the background and as a result hang up. Therefore, at work, a swear jar was put into place. Each swear would cost a quarter. With the amount of swearing going on, it was expected that the jar would fill up and the amount of swearing would be reduced significantly.

What happened was simply a laugh riot. Some of the people were DYING to swear, and one person in particular was fond of telling dirty jokes. Therefore, when he heard of the swear jar concept and how much swears cost, he decided to “buy” swears. In his mind, telling a good, dirty joke was worth the couple of dollars worth of swears. It so happened to be that thinking this way was ultimately reflective of this person’s moral compass, of which there was none. I complained that this was completely distorting a good and wholesome concept, but was told to lighten up. Whatever.

Everybody was wondering where the money from the swear jar was going to go. In the end, everyone had the answer: someone mysteriously stole the swear jar and never told anyone about it. Personally I suspect the one who “bought” swears in the first place, but there’s no way to know for sure.

Internet Hell With a Caveman – Long Yet Hilarious

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Warning: Rant Ahead!

It’s usually disheartening to encounter the rare individual today that doesn’t know how to operate with today’s technological necessities. It’s even worse when such a caveman is mean and rude. The “caveman” I’m about to refer to is an owner of a well-known Barbecue and Grill place where he works, therefore I’m not disclosing any incriminating names or places.

Caveman #1: The Grilled Food Store-Owner

A number of years ago, when I had recently graduated from university, my uncle had approached me about a website opportunity for an acquaintance of his. This person was in the grilled/barbecue food industry, and was clueless about the first thing on how to operate a computer. At the time, the business lacked a computer, and for that matter, internet access. Their current business model revolved around two aspects: walk-in, paying customers, and a fax machine. Those that wanted their orders filled out took a form previously taken from the store, filled it out and faxed it to the place. It was indeed a primitive way to operate.

My uncle negotiated with the person, explaining that he needed a website to market to today’s generation. The fact that the owner had no computer, nor did he have the space to store one, wasn’t going to be an issue: the site would have a feature where a user submitted a form, and the form data faxed to his machine by using a custom fax-to-PDF method, which came through a 3rd party service. This site would cost approximately $1,000 for development. This was agreed on based on a handshake with no formal contract detailing what would be done – big mistake. Anyways, I then went to work, initially thinking that this was a lot of money (how wrong I was). Due to my inexperience at the time, I foolishly forgot about domain name and hosting registration costs, which for this person, at 2 years hosting and 10 years to own the domain name, came out to over $200 extra. I decided that, over the phone, I would pocket the costs and talk to him later about it.

I spoke with the owner a few times about it, and initially he agreed to pay the extra costs. Later on, he started to play dumb, repeatedly stating, after repeated reminders, that he “thought this was included in the cost” (which of course it wasn’t). To make matters worse, once the site was completed and ready for testing, he verified that the form-to-fax service indeed worked since he always “needed to find his wallet.” Also, since he didn’t have a computer, I had to print screenshots of how the site looked and fax it. When he complained that he wasn’t getting any online customers, I explained that he needed to market his website. In other words, he was looking for every excuse not to pay me (such manners). I guess that to him, I was a kid that he could withhold payment from as long as possible, and he being computer-illiterate, failed to appreciate the amount of work that it took to create the form and the Fax integration.

After not being able to receive payment from him, I asked my uncle, who initially arranged the partnership, to please pick up the money for me in exchange for a percentage of the pay. I don’t know what happened, but my uncle picked up two checks, one being post-dated for a later date, and mumbled to me that the person’s behavior towards me was just plain disgusting. Anyways, we exchanged monies and we let bygones be bygones.

Fast forward to a year later. I happened to meet a very nice girl, became engaged to be married, and naturally, was under a lot of stress in the process. Family, friends, where the wedding would take place, where we would live, where I would land a new full-time job should we move to location X, etc. Towards the wedding my nerves were shot (as was my bride’s), and naturally I was in no mood to be instigated.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, the owner of the site I built for a year ago calls me up and tells me, “I don’t like what you did! I paid for a service and it doesn’t work. All you know is how to take money.” I was understandably insulted because, in my mind, I provided a service on time that was tested, and payment came much later than it should have. Not only that, I doubted that he even ONCE went to the website. So, I blew up at him, screaming at the top of my lungs to get off my back, that I was getting married and already had enough pressures.

Apparently, the Form to PDF/Fax service failed to work for the online ordering form, but it worked for the main contact form. I decided to call this Form-To-PDF service, and found, to my chagrin, that level 2 support, let alone level 1, was indeed horrible. The people on the other line sounded like underpaid Indians who didn’t understand my question about Form to Fax. Apparently, in their online answer bank, they had tons of questions regarding emails/forms to PDF’s, and even Fax to PDF/email, but they didn’t have anything regarding a PDF that would do the reverse: go to a fax machine. After all, who operated with only a fax machine these days?

I tested the online form a few times, as well as the regular contact form. One worked, and one didn’t. In one of my testings, I submitted a mock email basically saying “Nu, I need more money!” The owner of the store, apparently disenchanted with me as well as having an “internet site,” as he put it, cancelled the form-to-fax service, rendering the form non-workable. When I called him about it, he told me, rightfully so from his end, that the service didn’t perform what his business requirements were. As a service, I disabled the form on the site, only keeping the “home” and “about us” pages intact. I also took on the hosting, using it for my domain names. Once the hosting package expired after the 2 years, I renewed it under my own credit card and as a service, hosted this person’s site for free.

Anyways, with so much on my mind, I didn’t think twice. I married, quit my low-paying job, settled in Toronto, and moved on.

Caveman #2: The Owner’s Wife

3 years later – yes, 3 years – after becoming more comfortably settled in, the owner’s wife, who knew how to operate a computer only a little better than her husband (although that didn’t say much), called me and left me a voice message commanding that I teach her how to use the “internet site.” I tried calling her back twice, leaving voice messages, but she didn’t get back to me. One day, my uncle calls me specifically to request that I speak with the wife, as he wasn’t hearing the end of it. He met the wife and asked her what happened. She explained that there was “phone tag” going on. He asked her when would be an available time for her to speak with me. She said she didn’t know. He asked her if her schedule was THAT hectic, to which she replied “ohhh yeahhh….” like she had a million and one things to do and therefore something that SHE was requesting had to be put on hold.

A few months later, the owner’s wife calls me, demanding that I teach her in a matter of minutes how to operate a website, something that took me, well, a lot longer than 5 minutes to learn. Out of courtesy, I spoke with her over the phone for not 5, 10 minutes, but close to 3 hours! She called me out of the blue, without asking if now was a good time for me, and made life unbearable for me. I failed to mention that I had a 30 page paper due for graduate school the following week, and with work, I valued my time very much. When she had a million things to do, that was important. But when I had a million things to do, everything had to be pushed aside! She mentioned that she was ready to learn how to use the site if it killed her. Never mind if it killed me!

This wasn’t a “how are you” conversation. This was a “how do I move my mouse” conversation, literally. She wanted to know how to enter data into a JPEG (I’m dead serious), edit HTML files graphically by default, and with that amount of knowledge, wanted to know how to upload files and pictures to her internet site. I directed her to FileZilla, gave her the username/password to her husband’s site, and attempted to teach her to upload/download files. Simple tasks like locating her downloads location, her desktop relative to her filesystem in the FileZilla interface, etc. alone was a 1 hour chore.

I could have suggested a CMS (content management system) for her needs, but a) it was doubtful that she and her husband would have paid the extra money for it, and b) training someone who wanted to enter data into a JPEG how to use a CMS, long-distance no less, would have been just as difficult . One of her children, during the phone conversation, came over and was amazed at what the mother was doing, to which she nonchalantly replied, “well I’m speaking with a professional, so he’s guiding me what to do.” Well, to be honest, it was more like pulling a leash on a dog that decided to sit rather than walk!

Needless to say, it was hell. The conversation ended rather unpleasantly from my end, and I just asked her to email me the pictures she wanted uploaded. She was about to email me….. until she realized that she didn’t know where the attachment button was! Apparently, after 10 minutes of deciphering, it was found that she was using iGoogle for Gmail, rather than logging into the main Gmail interface. Her settings therefore didn’t permit her to upload attachments from iGoogle.

Again, it was hell. The next day I received some more emails with “do this for my website” kinds of questions. Again, I wasn’t paid for any of this. I’m telling you, where was this person raised? In a barn? The one thing she and her husband had in common were manners – the each lacked them.

Here are some of those emails (with names and places changed):

  • Thanx a ton for your time and patience.  Please remember to change my (FTP) name to BerkOWitz.
  • Did you get the email yesterday?
  • I want to also send photos thanx
  • Did you get the email yesterday?

I called my uncle and told him “uncle, uncle!” Nah, but close. I asked him what should I do? He replied that, get this monkey off my back, I should offer her the option to pay for my services in time stamps, and that she would have 30 days to decide until I choose to take the website down for inactivity. I sent her the following email:

Mrs. Berkowitz,

Per your requests yesterday, I went ahead and added the menu pictures to the site. On website.com, you would go to “view menu,” then go to “Menu Picture.” Below that will appear a number of links where you would go to choose which menu you would like to see. As well, I’ve added the FTP user “mberkowitz” with the password “Berko123” (case-sensitive).

That said, I feel that now I must clarify that our 2 hour phone conversation yesterday was a courtesy one, as was the time in adding the pictures. Therefore, since there wasn’t agreed on, none of my time yesterday and today was charged. Moving forward, though, please understand that I must bill you for my consulting time. “Consulting” includes any phone conversations longer than 10 minutes, as well as any time uploading files/making changes. My normal hourly rate is at $XX per hour. What I can offer is “time blocks” in hours which you can purchase, and during those blocks my time is dedicated solely to maintaining your website as well as any other computer-related services I can provide over the phone.

If you feel that this rate is in any way shape or form unreasonable, or if you wish to go with somebody more local, then please feel free to try someone else. However please note as well, that for the past year and a half your website hosting package had in fact expired and that during this time I’ve hosted your website under my web host space (which I’m currently renting out, it’s not cheap) for free.

Therefore I am providing you 30 days to decide what to do. After this time period, should you not decide to use my services, the site will no longer be hosted on my server for free like it has until now. I can mail you the website files on a CD, if you’d like, but that’s about it. Otherwise, my offer still stands. If you would like to pay me online, I can accept Paypal. If you don’t have an account already, I can help set you up with one, but keep in mind that the time in doing so will cost extra.

Please understand that I don’t mean anything personal by what’s stated. I feel that my time is valuable, and that this is practically my means of livelihood. Why should I therefore work for free?

Best,

Me

To which she replied:

Again I want to thank you for the time you gave for free. I really appreciate it. I will need to make some inquiries and figure out where I want to go from here. Thanks. Please do come in for a free meal when you are in the area. Thanks again.

Conclusion

That was that. I sent a few reminder emails, to which she didn’t respond. It’s one thing to not understand how to operate a computer, but to be rude, self-imposing, and expect this kind of service for free, is just Chutzpah and caveman-like. Good riddance.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t ever start work without a contract, if anything one detailing what you will do so that you and the client can reference it at a later time.
  • Learn when to “fire” the client, be mean if you have to. Don’t let the client or his wife ever take advantage of your time or professional experience, which you have worked years to attain.
  • Work with clients that “want” to learn the industry, even though you’re being paid to be the professional and in charge. Some willingness from their end is extremely important.

Quickbooks Mayhem – Theft or Shtick?

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A few years ago I worked for someone that serviced computers for small businesses. One day, my boss had asked me to visit a client/friend of his, who was known to be a bit of a shady character. The instructions were to uninstall Quickbooks from one machine and to install it on another using the existing key (Quickbooks will not allow the same license to be be run on two or more machines simultaneously).

I drove down to the client, and asked him for the Quickbooks key in order to perform the installation on the new machine. Checking his past emails in order to locate it, he told me that he must have misplaced/deleted it, but that I could call Quickbooks in his name in order to get it. He left the building, and I made the call. When the person on the other end asked me to verify my name, I said that my name was the client’s name instead (in order to avoid being told that only the person was allowed to speak). He looked at the account, and told me, “Sir, I don’t understand. In reading these notes, you previously called us to cancel, explaining that our software wasn’t supporting your business needs.” Embarrassed, I thanked him, and hung up the phone.

I then replayed the scenario and put two and two together. The person had likely bought the software with a 1 year license, installed it on one machine, activated the key, and then called to cancel in order to save money (he perhaps received the full refund). In other words, that was his way of getting Quickbooks for free! When I called support, I, representing the client and using the client’s name, was at the business end for his “game-playing.”

This according to most would not technically be considered outright stealing – after all, the client technically did purchase the product, only to cancel later on, lying that it wasn’t supporting his business needs in order to get the product for free. He technically manipulated the system, which speaks of that person’s character as well (but who cares about morals in business, anyways?). If you can find a technicality (notice how I’m using the word technically so many times here), milk it for what it’s worth.

I personally found this behavior “just plain wrong.” What one does in ones personal time is one thing, but to profit in business with “technically-not-stolen-but-cancelled-because-im-a-cheapskate” software, and then expecting to receive support, smells fishy.

Anybody have client/employer horror stories to share? We’re looking for more writers!