Deciding whom to stiff
Playing hardball can no doubt have a place in business, but it is important to be sure that everyone is playing by the same rules.
In one case, a consultant did work for a company and submitted an invoice. After a suitable period of time he called and asked where his money was. He was told that while, in fact, the work he did was fine, and that while the invoice had been received, the company considered an invoice to be the jumping-off point for negotiation, and that if the individual wanted to get any money, he needed to made another offer.
After a bit of back and forth, the consultant said that if he weren’t paid he would sue. This produced some laughter, and the assurance that, if there were a lawsuit, the company attorneys would bury the consultant in paperwork. The consultant assured the man that he didn’t care about that: If he weren’t paid he would literally, not figuratively, bury the other man. And he hung up.
A few minutes later the consultant’s phone rang. It was his client, who wanted to know what the consultant meant by what he had said. The consultant asked what the client was talking about, and the client said he meant what the consultant had said to him a few minutes ago? The consultant replied that he had no idea what the client was talking about, and that they hadn’t spoken in a week or so. This didn’t clarify things too much for the unseen listener on the client’s end.
Our view on this (other than that we simply don’t work for this type of client, and certainly not for this particular client) is that the matter comes down to being an issue of principle: Was it more important in principle for the client to screw the consultant or to stay alive? Obviously, the likelihood was that the threat was merely an idle threat in the spirit of the negotiations. While it could be neutralized, idle or not, either through legal action or through the criminal justice system, the monetary cost would be much higher than merely paying the consultant what was owed him.
Plus, if the incident made it to the papers, particularly with the consultant denying he said anything threatening, we are not convinced that the entire world would agree with the theoretically-injured party that sticking it to suppliers was actually taking the high road.