In any business that involves human interaction, you are bound to run into clients you deem difficult. In fact, difficult people are a part of every aspect of life, including business. Although difficult clients are a reality every businessperson has to deal with, I find the term “difficult” to be overused and misused, even abused in some instances. Many people use it lightly without appreciation for the impact their opinion has and the weight it can carry when it can potentially and unfairly damage or ruin someone’s reputation. When I hear that term used, I take it to mean: “I don’t like this person.” I tell myself not to pass judgment before I experience that person’s “difficulty”, if any, on my own.
Over the years, I have been described as difficult by some people, and it is highly likely that you have been, too. I always take it seriously and try to understand the root of the claim. Sometimes I’m proud of that description, because it means that the person found me too “difficult” to alter my beliefs or compromise my principles and damage my reputation or allow certain behaviors that I find unethical to pass. At other times, I felt that the claim was true -especially in trying situations such as breaking news scenarios or instances of sensitive decision-making- or where the damage from going forward with something outweighs the benefits and a firm unwavering position was necessary. One thing I do know, I am always grateful for people who let me know if I’m being problematic or hard to deal with. Honesty is always queen in my world, and I adjust accordingly.
So I take this lesson to clients, and when one is being unnecessarily hard to deal with, I make it known in the most diplomatic ways. When all else fails, I will make my opinion known directly and without hesitation. In extreme cases, it is important to know whether to walk away from a client or to compromise and save the relationship. Every client has his or her own way to be difficult, and no two people are alike. The following descriptors are the most difficult types that I’ve encountered during my time as an entrepreneur. Are you “difficult”?
1. The Cash Grab
The most difficult client is the one who thinks she or he has essentially bought you with their money, and they expect you to do everything they say without questioning the logic. When you contradict them -no matter how politely and tactfully- they are defensive and usually very stubborn. You can never change their opinion no matter how wrong you think it is. The best way to deal with them is to allow them to think about your suggestions and reformulate them in their own words, giving them the opportunity to claim ownership over the idea or concept.
2. The Center Of The Universe
The egocentric client is annoying with a potential of being difficult. They expect you to be available to them at any time of the day or night. They relentlessly contact you via email and SMS and through all other social means until they hear back from you. A client like this becomes so dependent on you that they start blaming their failures on you. For certain professions, where it is necessary to be close to a client, this becomes a serious problem because the only solution seems to be creating a buffer between you and them and that can end up being very damaging to the working relationship.
3. The Editor
The client who likes to correct your copy because they are used to doing so with their employees. They act like teachers who love to use a red pen scratching words out, adding commas and semicolons. They change a sentence construction and suggest what they believe is a better ways to express a thought. All this can be good if the changes are in the right places (and for a good reason). But the difficulty stems from the client weakening the copy, losing the main idea, killing the flow and destroying the thought-process. Another danger here is how this compulsive behavior destroys the team’s morale with constant nonsensical and contradictory changes.
4. The Shape Shifter
The client who has a restructuring agenda and hires you to do their dirty work for them. These ones are sneaky and ill-intentioned, but they lack the courage or experience to let people go. They put consultants and strategists in an awkward position: in one instance, after an honest assessment of the value each employee brings and after drawing a map for redistribution of duties and responsibilities, a manager shared her own list of people who “must go.” One of the hardest situations I had to deal with personally is agreeing to simply eliminate staff based on gender, age and looks rather than qualifications, favoritism and functionality. I am still searching for the best way to deal with that.
5. The Ineffective Delegator
The unfocused client who depends on his or her personal assistants (executive assistant, office manager or even significant other) to make decisions, conduct business or hold negotiations on their behalf. These are usually difficult to deal with because they are not available and because their assistant, no matter how qualified, is not them and should not be in a position to speak on their behalf because in most cases they end up on a power trip. This leaves room for confusion, misunderstandings and forced conflict that can’t end well for the client and the client might never realize that until it is too late.Difficult clients are difficult for a reason. Once you understand the reason, it becomes easier to manoeuvre your way around them, and to manifest results that are positive for both you and them. Difficult or not, we need clients and they need us. Just like any other relationship, it’s bound by principles and framed by best practices. No matter how difficult a client is, as long as they respect you and appreciate what you do for them, they deserve to be served wholeheartedly and with the highest standards. Either this or walk away and preserve your dignity and peace of mind.