When are questions insulting?

I have really great people on my network on Facebook (but not all of them talk to me) and yesterday I needed a few brilliant ideas that I turned to my Chat box and saw who among my Tech connections (people I look up and respect because of their ideas) are online and it happens that this “Social Media Boss” was online so I approached her with,

“Hi [name]
I was wondering if you could share some crazy ideas like what’s the craziest thing you’d do for something you’d really want?”

I fired up the question hoping it was interesting and perhaps she’d be so kind to share some, and I was totally taken aback by her answer:

“What made you think I would share ideas with you?”

I told her I’m sorry if she doesn’t want to and that’s fine with me; and I forgot her services are paid.

Now me and this lady have a lot of mutual friends, she’s a boss in a consulting company, but we never really talked except once I told her that I really liked the video interview of her despite the criticisms on it and she thanked me. Besides that, the second encounter was the unfortunate event yesterday.

Then she went on that “Do you pay by hour?” I told her I couldn’t afford her services and since she’s someone I look up to, perhaps I could get some ideas. Then she told me it was my nice way of saying I like her services but I want it for free.

Now I get it, maybe she felt insulted and violated that she’s someone that has mastered her skill and has become a “big shot”(at least her region and she thinks she is), and I, have been ‘stupid’ to ask for her ideas when she’s actually paid to do it. Then she goes on with:

“Thank your luck you’re one lowly an individual” that I wouldn’t trigger a backlash. Now that I must tell you, hurts.

But then again, I apologized if she felt insulted and violated because after all, we don’t have any strong association. She posted on her Wall that if I really “look up to her”, I wouldn’t ask her on a “cheap Facebook message”.

Penelope, I wonder if is that how most “big shots” really respond? Like when a blog reader asks you a question, would you feel insulted that I solicit your opinion or idea for free?

I would really appreciate your comment on this. Perhaps you could shed me and your other blog readers some light as to when is it “good” to ask questions, or is it even okay to ask “professionals” like her when she does consulting for a living. I thought it was an innocent question, but what do you think?

12 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Her answer should have been helpful to you. Your question was simply awful. It was too broad. You were asking someone else to do hard thinking for you. Google “how to ask a good question” so that you get better at asking questions, and then you won’t get answers you don’t like.

    When you ask a terrible question, you waste the person’s time.


  2. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I have to disagree and think there’s always a tactful and polite way to answer a question, even one you don’t think is “good.” Unless that question is just out and out rude or insulting, which yours was not, I think her response was way out of line, especially the part about calling you lowly. My first thought was how dare she call another human being lowly. Yes, she probably gets asked questions all the time but the way this person responded just sours me completely on her and I don’t even know her.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I’m not saying the “social media boss” should give away her services for free. I’m saying there’s a way more tactful way to answer. She could have said something like “Thank you for thinking of me, if you would like to visit with me about ideas this is my hourly rate.” She could have explained that what the question asker was really asking was for one of her paid services. You get more flies with honey sort of thing. Still the part about calling the question asker lowly is galling. That says a lot about her as a person.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        There was a more tactful way to answer, but are we required to give friendly, polite answers to really rude questions? Social Media Boss’s response was rude, but Letter Writer’s question was also extremely rude.

        You say Letter Writer’s question wasn’t out and out insulting. I disagree. Let me count the ways:
        – Asked someone for a favor you have no relationship with
        – Initiated the conversation on Facebook (not at all professional, especially fb chat)
        – Asked such an open ended question it would take tons of work to craft a valuable response (like Penelope said)
        – Assumed Social Media Boss would share her ideas with you for free
        This all amounts to saying Social Media Boss’s time and ideas are not valuable, and you have no clue how business/relationships work.

        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          Personally, more times than maybe I should, I’ve gritted my teeth and not given a rude response back. The way I look at it is in my mind I can feel like I was the bigger person and it won’t come back to bite me later. Industries can be small worlds and the social media boss’s response could come back to hurt her in the future. There’s a way to be firm yet constructive and not take away a lot of time. Bad questions are quite common in this world and are going to be asked a lot. Sometimes how you respond back says a lot more than the original question. Calling the question asker lowly and then posting an exasperated status on facebook just looks immature. How many other people probably get asked these kinds of questions everyday yet don’t reply back with that level of rudeness or go complaining about it on social media?

          As Lauren stated in her reply, the question was not good, but asked with good intentions. Social media boss wasn’t perceptive enough to see that and was reactionary. The points you bring up, Rachel, are valid, but the way social media boss responded in such a rude way, her reaction was beyond what was called for. After she saw the question, why did she even reply if it was so infuriating to her. She could have not even bothered to reply at all.

    • Juliette
      Juliette says:

      I completely agree social media boss’ response was rude. I’m a social media boss. I get asked questions all the time, and often from people who haven’t otherwise found cause to reach out. I’m always polite. Because in social media, my name is my stock in trade. Plus, I’m a decent human being. Sure, work on asking better questions, but never excuse an asshole.

  3. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi Letter Writer! That was rude. She did not have to send that message and post that status on Facebook. If you want, you can tell us the name of the person here in Mailbag. I tried searching for “look up to her” and “cheap Facebook message”, but came up with nothing.

    Even if you asked a broad question, she can simply say one sentence about her consulting services. That’s what Penelope does if you have many questions, one sentence per question. Don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault that some people are rude.

    Maybe Feelers like me have a different perspective from some Thinkers like Social Media Boss. While asking a terrible question may waste a person’s time, saying that someone is lowly really attacks his honor. Reveal the person’s name here so you can help us avoid her. Thanks.

  4. Lauren Bishop
    Lauren Bishop says:

    You were both wrong. You asked the wrong question (with good intentions), and she answered it incorrectly (with rudeness and contempt). You can both improve.

  5. Elise
    Elise says:

    Being a big boss shouldn’t allow her to react in this manner. He didn’t do something that terrible. Why did she feel the need to attack him?

  6. ihlas su arıtma fiyatları
    ihlas su arıtma fiyatları says:

    Hi Penelope! I think you didn’t do anything wrong. I agree with you.It is very normal asking questions to someome.She should have answered your question properly and kindly. She is so rude and arrogant. She can be a boss or an ordinary person. It is not important.

  7. Faith
    Faith says:

    She sounds like she has anger/attitude issues. She could easily have refused you in a polite way without making it personal, or even simply not responded at all. I would assume that most big-time professionals don’t have the time to respond to questions they don’t want to answer. She clearly invested a lot of emotional energy into making you feel beneath her and “punishing” you for something you couldn’t have known was wrong. Just don’t feel too bad about it and remember that it is a reflection of her character flaws and not anything that you did wrong

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