Why telling a client to get lost is good!


I like to think I’m a helpful sort of person.  My Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode preference is an Accommodator (like most of the trainers I know, by the way):  someone who in conflict is likely to let others have what they want because I worry too much about their needs and not enough about my own. Accommodating – not saying “No” when you should – has its place.  It’s OK when the conflict is low stakes, and you can afford to be nice.  But when it’s high stakes, people like me need to put our preference for popularity aside, and step up.  See diagram for details.  I need to move UP the chart more often.

In 16 years as a trainer, I have only ever threatened to walk away from a client once, and I can remember every detail of the transaction as if it were yesterday, even though it was nearly 10 years ago.  I had been asked to develop a workshop in Matrix Management (I should have walked away at that point, some would argue), and as it was to roll out across Europe and was of strategic importance, it was decided to pilot it with the Executive team.

I developed the session with input from the client (lots of it, tons in fact) and put forward a session I thought would work well.  The client kept asking for more content, more content, to the point that I started to feel uncomfortable.  This was a workshop, not a seminar, and we needed people to interact, engage, debate, rather than be talked at.

It all came to a head on a Friday lunchtime, when I received a long voicemail message from the client, saying that despite this being my third iteration on the workshop design, they were still not happy, and they had found me a local expert in the subject with whom I was to fly out to meet on Bank Holiday Monday in order to redesign the session.

That was it.  I was now at the point where I knew Accommodating could not be right, for either of us.  They were telling me to design a session I was convinced would fail, which would be bad for the client as well as me.  I moved into Compete mode, and got myself ready to walk away.  My BANANA (option to walk away) needed organising (a quick phone call to my boss, who, thank goodness, was ready to back me if it came to walking away).  Heart pumping, I rang the client, and uttered words I have never said since:

“If you insist on this it will fail, and I am not prepared to be help responsible for that.”

Pause at the end of the phone. “Let me call you back.”  Half an hour later they had agreed to go with my plan, and we never looked back.  (Yes, the workshop was deemed a huge success).  The thing is, our relationship improved hugely as a result.  They respected me more, and we were able to Collaborate much more effectively.  And I felt much better about myself and probably they picked up on this too.

I did it again in a slightly less high stakes version quite recently, when I told a client that I was not prepared to work at the fee level they were insisting on.  One email later the fee had gone up 60%.

To all you natural Accommodators out there (get the TKI profile from OPP to find out if this is you!), here’s today’s call to action:

When you feel your heart rate go up and your body temperature rising, that’s the warning bell.  Stand by!  Then ask yourself how high the stakes are.  If the answer is “high”, forget being helpful or popular: say how you feel and be prepared to say no.  If it all goes wrong and you end up losing anyway, at least you won’t have to beat yourself up for being so weak.  And if it goes right, you’ll probably have a more sustainable relationship to work with.

Here’s a short video on using the BANANA to bring the point to life.

Good luck!

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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2 Responses to Why telling a client to get lost is good!

  1. Jochen Berbuer says:

    :-) :-) :-) smiles is all I can send today….working on more while moving forward. Thought you might enjoy reading a couple of lines from me in any case :-)

    Viele Grüße
    Jochen

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