1. Mary M

    The Etiquette of Free Advice?
    Free advice, samples or demonstrations are part of growing a small business but at some point enough is enough. As an Etiquette resource if someone kept calling you asking questions about seating arrangements or business customs for various countries, at some point you would have to tell this person “if you’d like to hire to me to provide a seminar on this topic I’d love to work with you”. And then something to the effect of you can’t just keep giving free advice because this is how you make your living.
    What’s the best way to handle these types of inquiries? What if they offer to barter for your services but that situation really doesn’t work well for you? Is it appropriate to set a limit after their first or second call? How can one defuse a situation when the requester gets angry or insulted? When a price is quoted for services, how can one discourage haggling?

    • When I worked as a personal property appraiser, we frequently received calls to this effect. They wanted to know more about estate tax law, or what their grandma’s clock was worth… but didn’t want to actually pay us for our time. Finally, for those folks who kept calling back, we’d say, “Thanks for calling, but we’re really busy right now. If you’d like, I’m more than happy to set up an appointment for a few days from now.”
      They’ll either get the hint and stop calling, or set up that appointment.

      When people try to barter with me (and it’s nothing I could use), I say, “I’d love to take you up on that, but the landlord accepts only cash!” In addition, we did not haggle. We told them that if they were uncomfortable with our prices, they were welcome to shop around (knowing full well that we were the only qualified people for that price nearby). We did, however, offer discounts to law offices who used our services frequently.

      • Jody

        I think Just Laura’s suggestions are great.

        A good friend of mine is a CPA. I need to ask him some tax-related questions about my share of my mom’s estate; in order to avoid situations like these, I intend to make it clear that I want to *hire* him to do my return. If he won’t charge me that’s his choice, but I don’t want to be perceived as a freeloader.

  2. Merlyn

    My father works at a machine shop. Recently, he received an offer from a different company that is closer to our house and would pay more. He discussed it with his supervisors and informed them he was considering changing jobs. He ultimately decided to stay at his current company, but I want to know: Was it wrong of him to tell his supervisors about another offer unless he was ready to change jobs immediately? What do you think?

    • Jerry

      No. It may have been dumb. (Why would you tell your boss that you’re considering changing jobs? It makes you seem “disloyal” and like you’re not a “team player.”) But there was no breach of etiquette.

        • Jerry

          Winifred: the fact that some people use this strategy to gain leverage with their current employer doesn’t change the fact that it’s a dumb strategy.

          Going in with another offer in hand and demanding your current boss to match (i) upsets your current boss for the reasons I mentioned, and (ii) burns bridges with the other employer who will feel used in case you later want to change jobs

    • Jody

      Jerry, you’re off-base here. Unless your current job situation is unpleasant it’s not dumb to tell them you’re considering changing jobs. The potential new employer may be checking you out; if your supervisors hear of this, they shouldn’t be blindsided. Merlyn, I think your dad did a very honorable thing.

      • Jerry

        Dear Jody: You’ve completely missed the point. Let me see if I can break it down into smaller chunks. Telling your employer you’ve got an offer in hand means you need to take that offer. If you do not, your current employer will see you as disloyal and you will be targeted if and when there is a next R.I.F. Also, you burn bridges with your next potential employer. The only exception is if you have a skill that is so necessary that you’re essentially untouchable.

        The premise that “[t]he potential new employer may be checking you out” is a red herring. I know of no employer that would check references without clearing it with the candidate first.

        • Jodi Blackwood

          Jerry, why do you have to be so condescending in your rebuttal to Jody? “You’ve completely missed the point. Let me see if I can break it down into smaller chunks” implies she is not very bright and requires simplification of the matter when in fact, she is spot on. If a potential employer receives a list of references, it is logical to assume that it is perfectly all right to contact them; it is up to the interviewee to ask that the current employer not be contacted at that time. Even then, the current employer may still hear about the situation, depending upon the industry/field of work and other references listed.

          • Jerry

            Dear Jodi: As to your comment, there is nothing in the question that suggests that Merlyn’s father provided a list of references. Moreover, most reputable employers keep their potential hires quiet so as to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation for the potential employee.

            As to your question concerning my alleged condescension, I was only being helpful. Because based on the comment that I was “off-base” it was very clear that she did, in fact, miss the point. It’s a bad business move for all of the reasons I mentioned. You may disagree and think that there is some “honor” in disclosing the job offer; I think it’s really bad business. And I think most business minded people would agree with me.

  3. Pam

    My Dad asked me to post this question. He does not own a snowblower nor does he want one. We live in a suburb of a large city and we don’t have large expanses of sidewalk. Our neighbor often comes through with the snowblower and plows our sidewalk–while he appreciates the neighborly gesture, it really upsets my Dad. He wants to shovel his own sidewalk and feels silly standing there with his shovel while the neighbor goes plowing by. Is there a way to preempt the snowblowing…he feels like he is now indebted to the neighbor (who we haven’t actually even met–he owns the house next door but lives around the block, so we have never actually crossed paths, except when we see him out the window snowblowing) all winter. My Dad won’t approach him while he is snowblowing b/c it makes my father feel silly that someone else is plowing his sidewalk while he is standing there. I think this is a masculine thing so maybe some of the guys can also weigh in.

    • Elizabeth

      This is a tough one. On face, it sounds like the neighbor is being really sweet. He may see your father as an older man who might appreciate not having to do the chore of shoveling. However, I also understand your dad’s position. The problem is that he’s never met the neighbor, and it would be awfully rude for their first interaction to be your dad expressing anger rather than gratitude at what almost anyone else would consider a favor. Your dad should make a point of meeting this guy. He could take a walk around the block (in the summer, when he’s doing yard work for example), or after he’s done snowblowing one morning, he could invite him in for some coffee. He should thank him, get to know him a little bit, then he could say something like, “It’s really nice of you to do my sidewalks for me, but believe it or not, I actually like shoveling, it’s really good exercise!”

      Another idea: maybe your dad could go over to the neighbor’s house one morning and shovel his walk before he gets a chance to blow it as a “thank you.”

      The simplest thing, though, would be for your dad to get out there earlier than the neighbor and just do his own walk. After a few times of the neighbor coming around and seeing your dad’s walk shoveled, he won’t bother anymore.

      • Pam

        Thanks Elizabeth :) My Dad basically does try to get out there earlier than anyone, and then he hears the motor in the distance, haha! My Dad is an “in shape” 60, but the man that snowblows is around the same age. In all honesty I think it’s just a losing battle and my Dad will just have to accept that sometimes the snowblower is going to go walking on by our window :) Thanks again.

    • Jerry

      Pam: Great questions. It’s not a “masculine” thing. It’s a no-one-likes-to-sit-around-watching-others-work thing. Imagine you were doing whatever it is you do, and someone came around with a machine that did it better and faster than you. Unless you hired them and you have a supervisor relationship, you wouldn’t really want to sit around watching them would you?

      With respect to your dad’s issue, Elizabeth’s second paragraph is correct — the best way is for your dad to get up earlier and shovel it himself. He should also consider meeting his neighbor who is so kind as to do his walk for him. Perhaps bring over a six pack of beer as a thanks. Then he can say something like, “I really appreciate you snow blowing, but you don’t have to on account of my age” or words to that effect. The only thing he cannot do is get upset or act ungraciously.

      • Zakafury

        It’s funny; I live in a two-apartment house. I’ve never said anything but “Hi” to the upstairs neighbors, but yesterday I shoveled the full driveway, front walk and porch steps while his car wasn’t there. I wonder if he’s given it a second’s thought.

        I agree that a token thank you gift would be a very good solution. It sounds like the neighbor is just clearing the public sidewalk, rather than the driveway and walkway. There’s certainly no need for embarrassment – especially if this is all happening so early in the day that it’s a competition.

        Mentioning “there’s no need” in conversation sounds like the perfect option. He is likely to reply with, “I just really love using my new snow blower,” and at that point I would accept the unwanted help.

    • Jody

      Pam, as others have said, the key is to be pleasant here. I don’t think there’s any need to wait until the spring. Elizabeth’s idea is great — catch the neighbor’s attention when he’s snowblowing and invite him in to warm up. Make sure the neighbor knows your dad appreciates the gesture, but also say something like “hey, I enjoy the exercise and shoveling my walk is a perfect way to get it.”

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      Last year my dad, who does not own a snowblower, shoveled his neighbor’s sidewalk, not because he had reason to believe they wouldn’t be able to do it themselves just because he figured he was already out there and he might as well. After the blizzard subsided, the woman next door stopped by and said “thank you so much for shoveling for us! My husband has a heart condition so he can’t do it himself.” She also gave him some cookies. My point is doing a favor for someone doesn’t mean you think the person can’t do it. It just means you’re trying to make their life a little easier. I agree with the advice already given on how to handle it. I just thought your dad might feel better if he didn’t think of it as a judgment on him.

      • Country Girl

        Great thought Winifred. Even though I am fairly young, and I imagine able-looking, I have a torn shoulder which makes shoveling snow a really grueling task for me. I sometimes see neighbors zipping around with their snow-blowers making quick work of their sidewalks and driveways, and can’t help but think how appreciative I would be if one offered to clear mine!

        I would perhaps suggest that if a neighbor clears Dad’s walk when he is willing and able, that a really nice thing to do would be to just pay it forward! If he likes the exercise or wants to feel useful (and even make someone’s day), there have got to be neighbors or folks in his community who are unable and would just love to have their drive or sidewalk cleared!

  4. Alicia

    I’ve had this problem with a neighbor too. The guy with the snowblowerr is both a bit old fashioned and thinks a gal should not have to shovel her own walk and he loves his snowblower. What I did is I said thank you but that I used the snow shoveling as an excuse to skip the gym and still drink hot chocolate and that I knew that the 30’s something couple down the street had trouble getting there drive done since they have several toddlers. Thus he could deflect his kindness and desire to snowblow towards a nice family that really appreciates the help and I still get the exercise of shoveling

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