Question and Answer

Handling an Unreasonable Demand

My company has a contract with another corporation. For this business, the other company needs to send documents to my boss every now and then. At first, there was no problem. My boss always got the documents without involving me. Lately, a person in that company insists that I should be the one to go there and pick up the documents. I am a manager and I found this insulting to my position. But since the person is technically a client, I cannot just refuse. What should I do to make this stop? – M

Dear M,

Assuming the person is not someone who enjoys showing power by making others do menial errands, there could be several possibilities behind the request (or as it seems from your side, demand). For example:

  • The person might use it as an excuse to meet you so he/she can speak face-to-face with you. Why the person could not say this directly is a different question.
  • For some reason, the person wants to be able to say to his/her superior that the documents have been handed directly to you as a representative of your company/your boss.

Whatever the actual situation is, you need to take control. Talk to the person and find out the urgency behind the request. You don’t need to wait until the next documents need a pickup.

Invite the person to meet. Before the meeting, make a list of any possible solutions you can offer. Anything that comes to your mind. This will help you see the situation from a wider point of view, and will give you greater confidence.

In the meeting, express your appreciation for the business from his/her company. Say that you would like to give them better service. Yet as a manager with responsibilities, there are limits on what you can do yourself. You want to give your best in your position, and doing something outside that will be a disservice to them. Try to say something along the line of, “Ask me anything related to my expertise and I will gladly be at your service. On the other hand, asking me to do something less than my capability is like having the most advanced phone and only using it for text messages. Don’t you agree?” It is akin to saying, “I’m a manager and I don’t deserve to be your errand person,” but with a twist. Whatever you say, try to put it in terms of their interest.

From this point, you can ask probing questions to know the reason behind the request. “I understand that previously documents from you reached us without a problem and without involving me. May I know what changed so now you need me to come and get them?” Clarifying the reason can open doors for discussion and negotiation. However, as much as you can, avoid proposing anything until all cards are on the table. Understanding the situation from every angle can help bring an agreement that is profitable for both sides. Good luck!