Spotting & Handling the Bully Client

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Bully clients lead with their egos. They try to treat you like an employee who should be grateful to have a job. They act like your system doesn’t matter and that their work takes precedent over every other client’s work.

They enforce their own deadlines (and often break them with no apology or explanation). They ignore your advice and expertise, while expecting you to do their thinking for them and to take responsibility when results aren’t rapidly forthcoming.

These are people who take “the customer’s always right” to mean “the client can do whatever he wants because that’s how desperate things are out there.”

Funny thing about me, though. I’d rather be flat broke than be disrespected. Because that’s what it is, whether they do it intentionally or not: a form of disrespect for the experience you bring, for your insight, for your ability to do your job, for your willingness to be helpful without being taken advantage of…

Beware the Mighty Ego

I wish I had known a few years ago that you can spot these Squawking Ego Bombs a mile away.

It’s Not Me, It’s Them

They might spend time explaining why their past client-consultant relationships didn’t work out (e.g., the team’s inability to deliver or complete ineptitude).

How to Handle It: Ask the prospective client what they would have done differently, how they tried to work it out with the team (if nothing constructive, walk away), and whether or not they would mind you contacting one of the former teams. Then gauge the reaction overall – are they just blustering (ego) or does it genuinely seem like they found some lemons? One other thing: Note the number of predecessors you have, particularly in cases where there is just outright dissatisfaction with “all” people in your area of expertise.

We’re Pals, Right?

While familiarity can certainly lead to a longlasting client relationship, Ego Bearers will often use it against you at a later point in time, usually by taking advantage of you financially.

What to Watch Out for: You should be able to tell fairly readily if someone is going to be all about business or if there will be … more. Ego Bearers bring more emotion to the conversation right away – whining, residual anger or frustration, anxiety. Note that I used the word “emotion,” not energy. In fact, the energy they bring to the work you do together may be quite toxic to productivity.

You’re the Expert {Shrug}

This Ego Trait is hard to spot. This person might say: “You’re the expert; I don’t know a thing about anything other than what I know, but I really know that. I don’t know what I want – that’s your job to tell me.” This scenario heads in one of two directions: (a) “I know what I like when I see it,” or (b) “Let me show you what my competitors are doing.” They’re masking a need for control with respect. You’ll recognize this by its other name: manipulation.

How to Spot It: In this instance, look for context clues. If other signs are pointing to Ego, then it’s likely that the same applies here. Some people genuinely admit to having no personal preferences whatsoever and are happy to leave you to your own expert devices, but not the Ego.

I’m Not Your Employee (Nor Would I Be)

But how many of us charge back against the Ego once it rears its ugly head? Is it because when someone handles a situation by throwing his or her Ego out in front of them, it comes across as brusque, disrespectful, or overreactive, so you feel the need to defend yourself? The true crime here, dear friends, is not stopping it before it gets to that point.

 

We’re all trained, to a certain extent, in the traditional workplace to grin-and-bear-it, suck-it-up, and forget-about-it-because-it’s-not-important, but when it’s your own enterprise, it’s a different animal. Suddenly, there isn’t a manager to blame, a system to criticize, or a process to insist would be more efficient if one of 700 things happened.

Now it’s your process, brought to the world by your brain, and there’s something both immensely cool and untouchable about that. You’ve honed it and you’re confident that it’s successful. In fact, it IS successful. So why are these Egos trying to mess with it?

Spotting & Handling Client Bullies

The truth is that there will always be people who have been overindulged or who use fear as a weapon, who bully their way through business because they’ve seen that it works. The sad part is that many creatives and consultants feel that this is just the cost of doing business. It doesn’t have to be.

  • Be selective about the clients you choose and be upfront about your selectivity. Some relationships just aren’t meant to be and that’s to be expected.
  • Be careful to set expectations in the very first phone call as to how you like to work, and feel out the person on the other end of the phone. If you sense resistance, that’s a red flag.
  • Particularly when productivity is being affected and/or the relationship is affecting other clients, don’t get caught up in an emotional battle. Always refer them back to the directives of the project and remind them that they’re not the only client you have – in writing.
  • If they’re insistent on bringing the Ego into the conversation and redirection isn’t working to get you back on track, it may be that the relationship has reached an irreparable point.
  • For goodness sake, learn from the experience! If it happened once, don’t let it happen again.

You can only do so much. Some people just aren’t cooperative, want something for nothing, and won’t quit hassling until you take a stand. The best thing you can do in this scenario, for your own ego, is to walk away. Leave the Ego to figure out another way to reach his or her goals because it’s clear that you’re not the Chosen Ego Soother (nor will anyone else be).

Something better will always come along – it’s just the way it works. And that’s pretty awesome.

If you are on the receiving end of a negative attitude or feel unnecessarily challenged by someone’s ego – a client, a coworker, a subordinate, a colleague – how do you react?

About Sarah

Obsessed with order and driven to help you succeed in whatever you do to make the world a better place, I work tirelessly to keep you motivated, inspired, and informed about the worlds of branding and marketing. Read more about Enve or check us out on Twitter.