From time to time, all small businesses struggle with a client who seems indifferent, constantly questions our judgment, or calls demanding attention on a Saturday night. Even relationship experts like Andrew Sobel aren’t immune.
When faced with a difficult client, Sobel argues a small business leader should consider these four steps:
1. Assess. Diagnose why the person is acting that way. What’s behind the behavior?
2. Make an action plan. Identify remedial actions you can take to address the underlying dynamic (e.g., if a client is micromanaging you because of insecurity, what steps can you take to build greater trust?).
3. Confront. If appropriate, confront the client with their behavior (e.g., point out that they are second-guessing your expertise and experience and ask them to stop).
4. Finally, fish or cut bait. Decide what your boundaries are, and if you’ve really had enough, move on and focus on more fruitful relationships. You won’t need to fire a client often, but doing so can be extremely healthy, not only for your business but for your own sense of self-esteem and well-being.
“Just knowing you have a plan to deal with difficult clients can bring a huge sense of relief,” 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.”
Andrew Sobel, is coauthor along with Jerold Panas of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships