“Clients from hell”—that’s what some people call them. And if you stay in business long enough, you’re bound to encounter one. Even relationship expert Andrew Sobel isn’t immune, and that’s why he, along with Jerold Panas, authored Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships and the accompanying workbook Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide.
So, what to do when you’re faced with a difficult client? Here are four more types of tough client and some strategies for dealing with them:
1. The know-it-all. This client thinks he knows the best way to do your job and offers many suggestions as to how you can improve. He grabs the reins and attempts to call the shots.
The prescription: Reaffirm your respective roles. Subtly remind him that you are the one with years of experience. If this doesn’t help, tell him that in order for your relationship to work, he must give you adequate leeway to do your job. “Twice I have had to say to clients, ‘When you buy a Mercedes-Benz car, do you tell the salesman that you want to travel to Germany to inspect the production line and make suggestions to them about how to assemble your car?’” recounts Sobel. His approach worked. “In both cases, the client laughed and backed off.”
2. Mr. or Ms. Aloof. There are clients who will treat you as if you are merely a vendor and rebuff your efforts to build a deeper relationship. These clients can be perfectly pleasant but are difficult to get to know, which means they’re more difficult to help.
The prescription: Persist in your efforts to get to know them. Ask questions. What’s important to them right now? What are they trying to accomplish this year? Once you uncover their priorities—what really matters to them—you’ll be better able to help them accomplish their goals.
3. The insatiable client. This client is impossible to please. No matter what you do, it isn’t good enough. They’re overly critical, and their negative views can leave you feeling exhausted and defeated. They are incapable of delivering a compliment.
The prescription: Establish expectations at the beginning of each contact or communication. Delve into the specifics of the form and quality of your product or service. And don’t pin your self-worth to their opinions. “This is a client, not your spouse, and as long as you’re doing a good job and achieving the agreed-upon goals, you shouldn’t worry about getting a constant stream of praise.”
4. The tyrant. This client has serious interpersonal problems that extend beyond you and your offering. He mistreats the people in his life and is roundly disliked. You likely will not get to the bottom of why this person behaves as he does—so don’t waste your energy trying. Some people are just mean.
The prescription: If his behavior is too much for you, move on. “Life is too short to spend time in abusive relationships, be they at work or in our personal lives!” Some things are just not worth the effort.
Says Sobel, “Relationships may feel complex and mysterious, but, really, they’re subject to some pretty simple rules. When you learn them, and put them into practice, it can shift your work and your career to a higher level.”
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