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Kevin Latchford

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When is it time to stop being nice? - February 7, 2015

This week I am taking a step away from my normal routine to answer a question from a colleague:

 

Dear Kevin,

 

Thank you for letting me pick your brain on the phone the other day. I appreciate the advice you shared about a contract I’m trying to negotiate. But now I’ve got an entirely different question that I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I have a client that my firm’s been working with for about 4 years now, and he has progressively gotten worse to deal with. He feels he’s the center of the universe and treats me and my employees like nothing more than his servants. We recently completed a fairly large project for him and not once has he said thank you. The project experienced a few delays, all of which were on him, and he never acknowledged his hand in the delays. He is not enjoyable to work with and my employees feel his disrespect is cause for us to part ways. I’ve tried to maintain my composure but even I have lost my faith that this will be a salvageable relationship. When is it time to stop being nice and just tell him like it is? That he’s rude, disrespectful, ungrateful, and we don’t want to work with him anymore. Your thoughts and ideas would be appreciated.

 

Thanks,

Ken

 

Well Ken, the short answer is it is never okay to stop being nice, but there may come a time when you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your client. I am not a fan of email or text messaging when confronted with these situations for two reasons. One, such correspondence does not allow for true feelings to be heard, and the recipient of the note may not grasp the seriousness of how you feel the situation is at the moment. And two, it is the cowards way out, which I know you are not a coward Ken.

 

I myself have heard people say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just me” when confronted with poor manners or poor business behavior. That is simply who they choose to be. And so, if they choose to be a rude and disrespectful individual, then you need to consciously choose to tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, and you need to carefully explain why you’re sharing this information with them. My guess is that human nature will kick in and they will not be happy at all. So, here is my advice and answer to your question, but please make sure you give this a lot of consideration before you act upon it.

 

You do not need to lower yourself to their way of behaving and you certainly do not need to be baited into an argument. You must keep your composure and treat this person with respect. You may share your displeasure in how you and your employees have been treated, but try something like this: “You know James, we’ve dealt with a great number of clients and projects over the years, and sometimes we run into situations that don’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I know you feel this project didn’t go as planned, but it is a shame that you feel we are entirely at fault.”

 

It is your right to continue and share with James that your employees have always given him 100% of their effort in the most professional manner even when he was venting or treating them with disrespect. He should know that his poor communication skills are both a reflection on him and his company. And finally, you must state for the record, that you have a responsibility to attract and retain clients that are healthy for your firm now and in the future. You are now questioning if a relationship with him and his company offer such a healthy opportunity.

 

The likelihood is that you will be treated with continued disrespect and that James will not be pleased with your “questioning of his behavior”. But it is your right and your duty to protect your most valuable asset, your employees. They need to know that you have their backs and you respect them even when the client does not. Your client may hang up on you, he may fire you right on the spot, or he may simply have something sarcastic to say.

 

Remember this, you must remain professional, and be nice. You must take the high road. Yes you must let the client know what has transpired and that you simply may not be the right fit for him anymore. But you must always remain true to yourself and your employees. There are plenty of prospective clients out there that want to work with you and who will show you the respect you deserve. Don’t let this one poor client bring you down.

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