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This is a question Dodgy work ethics

Chthonic asks: What's the naughtiest thing a boss has ever asked you to do? And did you do it? Or perhaps you are the boss and would like to confess.

(, Thu 7 Jul 2011, 13:36)
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This has just recently happened. I'll try to reconstruct it based on Facebook posts. Lately I've been very low on money, looking for work wherever I can get it. I got hired freelance by a business English academy to proofread their textbooks. They were pretty heinous, and I edited the hell out of them. Since then, everyone there calls me when they have any kind of writing/editing problem.

The boss of the company got wind and called me up, to propose I write a whole textbook for him. I jumped at the opportunity, because that's exactly the sort of work I'd like to do. He's been thinking about getting more into publishing, and there might be a full-time position in my future, once it becomes profitable. I went to his office to meet with him. He's a very cruel looking Korean man, always frowning, sometimes glaring. He's got a Christian cross hanging from his phone, and it means a lot of things to different people, but here it means one thing: materialistic greedy bastard. Still, I'm going to make a lot of money doing this.

So we meet, and here's what he's looking for: an entire book on using English in meetings, the next book on presentations, the next on negotiations, etc. I point out it sounds pretty dry, and people would probably respond better to something somewhat more English. "I know what people want," he tells me, "I've been in this industry nine years. Do what I tell you." I've been in it seven, but whatever, he's the guy with the money.

I knew something was wrong when he shared with me one of his sudden flashes of brilliance. Do you remember those secret code things when you were young, probably in puzzle books, commonly on cereal boxes: they looked like just a bunch of coloured blobs, but if you hold up a red filter, suddenly you can see clear words? I forget what they're called. The filter is sort of like the red half of a pair of 3D glasses. He had the brilliant idea of using this for the book. You'd open the book up, and all you'd see are blobs. Then you put on your special business English specs, and suddenly you can see the words clear as day. There'd be a set of red and a set of blue, so two partners can read a dialogue together without seeing each other's lines. Keep in mind, this is a book for businessmen in their 40s. Can you imagine them showing up to class in their suits, and then putting on these glasses? Add in that they might not fit people with actual glasses, and it would be hard doing a dialogue because you wouldn't know when the other person's line ended. Anyway, I told my boss that it was a good idea...for a children's book. He didn't seem to understand why. He told me "I'll tell this idea to some other businessmen I know, and if I decide to, we'll do it."

Anyway, I trusted hopefully his friends weren't idiots, and fortunately he never brought it up again. I write up an outline and a sample chapter, and come back to review it. He looks through it, glaring at me, and sometimes baring his teeth. "It'll be too boring if it's all about meetings," he points out. I mention that last time he said it should be all about meetings. He points out that it only has to be on the cover, and what's inside doesn't really matter. I point out that in order for the book to sell and teach people anything, it has to be good quality. He disagrees. "I know what sells, so you have to listen to me."

We spent a great deal of time on the dialogue. He told me he thought some of the lines were too long, composed of four or five medium-length sentences. I agreed. He said they need to be shorter, because Korean businessmen who read these books like to memorise the lines. I pointed out that I teach business English classes to the target market every day, and I'm constantly checking for how much they remember. Nobody ever bothers to memorise lines. He disagrees, and says that he does. I tell him that he's only one person, and I can say empirically that most others don't. I also tell him that it's not very helpful to memorise sentences. However, I agree to make the sentences shorter, for other, better reasons.

Next, he took issue with the vocabulary words I selected. I admit, there were too many phrasal verbs, which are something Koreans tend not to learn. Specifically, "stop by," "show up," "walk out," "round up," among a list of about 15. "These are too easy," he says. I point out that Koreans tend not to know phrasal verbs, so it's useful to teach them. "No, they're just too easy," he retorts. "Well, maybe for you and me," I admit, "but for the average Korean adult, they're impossible." He doesn't seem happy about this. A few seconds later, it turns out he doesn't know what any of them mean.

One of the other sections I created was called "Natural Speaking," which highlighted Korean pronunciation and intonation problems. He didn't get the expression, and wanted something stronger. I suggested "Perfect Speaking," which he loved. "That's the sort of word that sells books," he explains. Despite the fact it's an impossible promise. He's got a thing for the word perfect, okay.

I wish I could remember the rest. He mentioned that he has to compete with foreign-published books that are imported to Korea, which are all PERFECT. I explained to him that they aren't perfect, nobody's perfect, language is an imperfect construct. This somehow makes him furious. He tells me to keep my opinion to myself. I point out that I'm from the same country as these books, and I'm not perfect. He reminds me he knows what he's talking about. I remind him that he's making bizarre assumptions about my culture. He snarls at me, "I don't want to talk to you anymore," and walks out.

A few days later, one of the girls who originally hired me for the company calls me up. This brings us to the original question, what's the naughtiest thing a boss ever asked you to do. She said, "He says if you want to keep working on the book, you have to not have any opinions."

I explain to her that that's impossible; if I'm going to work on a book, I need to be able to give my opinions. But what he wants is no opinion at all, just someone to do his bidding. I'm low on money, but I'm not that desperate. I told her it's disrespectful for him to ask that of me, and if that's what he needs, I'm not going to do it.

Anyway, I haven't severed all ties with them; they still owe me around 530 pounds for work I've already finished. Hopefully I won't have to work with him anymore, but I can keep things going with the other employees.
(, Thu 7 Jul 2011, 18:28, 3 replies)
It's a rare person who gains a level of authority
and retains basic listening skills.
(, Thu 7 Jul 2011, 19:35, closed)
If they owe you money other than wages, I presume you contracted to write this book.
If so, get in touch with a solicitor. I suspect you may have a case to insist upon the full contract price.
(, Thu 7 Jul 2011, 19:44, closed)
No no, don't worry
They owe me money based on two previous books I only proofread for them.
(, Mon 11 Jul 2011, 14:27, closed)

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