My Client is a Jerk: Three Keys to Transforming Relationships Gone Bad

(Following is an abridged and partial version of my latest article just published at RainToday.com)

Have you ever had a really difficult client?

• Who won’t take the time up front to share critical information
• Who just cannot make a decision,
• Who is frozen by politics or fear or ignorance,
• Who argues, rejects, and is disrespectful.

There is a common thread to all of these cases, which—if we understand it—can help us succeed.

The common thread has nothing to do with the clients.

The common thread is us.

The Client Situation

Let’s get some perspective—about our clients, and about ourselves.

We’ve all said, if only in our heads, "My client is a jerk." Unfortunately, "my client is a jerk" is a terrible problem statement. For starters, clients don’t usually buy into it.

People successful enough to hire us typically have achieved some degree of success in life. While it’s popular lately to describe the prevalence of "a**holes" in business (see Robert I. Sutton’s book, The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t), their frequency is overestimated.
Most clients have spouses, or parents, or siblings capable of loving them. Most have a boss who has promoted them.

Truly bad behavior, more often than not, comes from decent people who are stressed out. If someone is behaving badly, it’s a good bet that they are afraid.
Identify the fear, and you can find a real problem statement.

Manage to talk about that fear with your client, and you can create a lasting bond.

Our Own Situation

What’s true of clients is equally true for us, especially in selling. We fear not getting the sale.

We’re afraid of our boss, peers, loved ones and clients judging us.

But we carry the ultimate judges around in our own heads. We allow ourselves to be hijacked by our own ideas of being "good enough.” There’s a thin line between having high standards and beating up on oneself.

If we act from fears, we will run from judgment—usually by blaming others. “This sale was doomed because I had a difficult client. If you’d had my client, you would have failed too. My client is a jerk.”

At first blame, people will commiserate with you. But when blame turns into resentment, people move away. Misery may love company, but company doesn’t return the favor.

Blaming a client never got you the sale, and it never will. But it can kill the next one.

Self-Diagnosing and Fixes

For more on diagnosing the problem (and examples of reframing it), and for three fixes for difficult clients situations, read the rest of the article at RainToday.com.

There aren’t any difficult clients. Not really. There are only relationships that aren’t working well. And nearly all of those can be fixed. But it must start with us.

As Phil McGee says, "Blame is captivity; responsibility is freedom." To get free of "difficult clients," take responsibility for fixing the relationships.
 

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