Clients From Hell: How to Avoid Them & How to set Boundaries if you Don't
Clients from hell....we've all had them. Just like sexual harassment and problem bosses, we're all much too terrified to talk about it.
"My career will be over."
"I'll get ostracized and shunned."
"I'll look unprofessional."
"I'll never attract new clients."
So, we're all silent and the abuse and bullying continue day after day, year after year, and decade after decade.
Today's the day. Yes, I'm terrified it will hurt my business but just like the members of the U.S. Gymnastic team who finally spoke up about abuse, somebody's got to make the first move.
It's an important issue for CEOs. If abrasive control freaks are tasked with sourcing suppliers, their approach will do irreparable damage to your brand. The supplier of today may be the prospective client of tomorrow.
For suppliers, it's a no-win scenario. You'll never please them and they'll bad mouth you.
Scenario: We designed and facilitated part of an executive retreat for a new client.
Red Flag 1: During the planning of the retreat, the CEO never made himself available so all planning was through more junior members of his team. We never spoke to him even once. We didn't have his input when designing the content.
We asked for 1 1/2 days for the simulation. We were asked to do it in a shorter timeframe. I indicated the timeframe was too short to cover the content in depth.
Red Flag 2: The feedback was that I was being difficult. He gave us half a day plus an activity.
We even suggested another consulting firm that specialized in shorter programs. They presented to the members of his team who were our contacts but he wanted our programme.
Red Flag 3: He provided no feedback about the content. Our request for him to go through the detailed agenda and sign-off to request changed or indicate he was in agreement was denied.
Red Flag 4: Yet, he micro-managed when it came to the social aspects. Location scouting for our supplier to do a desert dinner was cancelled at the last minute.
Red Flag 5: The week before the retreat, he changed his mind and ended up booking it with another supplier.
Red Flag 6: My time on the first day was chopped from half a day to 2 hours as the agenda was jampacked. (A consultant from another organization cut his losses and pulled out when his time was also cut a 2nd time from what he had requested.)
Red Flag 7: The agenda was behind schedule as the CEO had prattled on and on. Those who went ahead of us also went overtime.
There was a knock on my door. He sent someone to tell me that he wanted me to sit through the comedic MC's performance. I was promised that there would be no break. There was a break. I ended up with just over an hour and I had to chop the content drastically. The group was going to be picked up for dinner so I could not run over. He kept sending a member of his team to remind me to cover what would happen during the desert activities. I asked the group to cover an exercise enroute to the desert since there was no time to do it.
Apparently, he micro-managed the arrangements for dinner. He determined where everyone would sit. There were few women in the group. Naturally, the prettiest women were seated beside him. (One of them complained that he kept grabbing her thigh under the table throughout the meal.)
The next morning, I received a phone call at 7 AM. I was summoned to an emergency breakfast. No, it wasn't with him but I was informed that he was not happy with the content. (It was not covered in enough depth.) So, the exercise the group was to do on the way to the desert to make up for the short time the day before was cancelled. So was the debriefing. He had decided he did not want the desert dinner after all so, even though everything was set up for 60 executives and some spouses, it was cancelled. (When he woke up he decided he would rather have Italian food.)
We headed to the desert for the activities. Everything went smoothly. Our local supplier returned the group to the hotel instead of rendez-vousing with the other supplier for the desert dinner.
For the first time in the history of my business, I was never introduced to the CEO. I THINK I know who he is. How bizarre is that? It reminded me of this scene.
There is a reason that people develop obnoxious personalities. Perhaps they have psychiatric problems and require therapy, medication, or both. Maybe there is a drug or alcohol problem.
Some people become overly controlling as a way of coping with an abusive upbringing. Perhaps they are in a personal desperate situation to the point of being suicidal.
Whatever the cause, they may need help and a referral to your EAP programme or an outside counselling agency. The worst thing you can do as an executive is let them burn your relationships with suppliers, create a toxic work environment, and damage your brand. The worst thing we can do as suppliers and consultants is continue to enable their abusive behaviour by remaining silent.
Part 2 will focus on identifying red flags and strategies for setting boundaries if you end up working with a client from hell.
- How do you spot clients from hell so that you can run the other way?
- What are some red flags?
- How do you set boundaries if you didn't avoid them?
- Why do we tolerate clients from hell and keep their abuse a secret?
Join in the discussion here and on LinkedIn where I tell the tale of another client from hell.
I have been working on a series about B2B social m ...
I've held my tongue about this one for a LONG time ...