by Tony Vidler
What you think is the problem is not always actually the problem. Sometimes the person is the problem. Sometimes, maybe, the client is the problem rather than you.
Before talking about clients though allow me to use a non-client example. Picture the scene: a partner in a practice is telling me about the problems with a particular staff member…a fair bit of chat about how they are not doing what the partner feels should be done, and taking far too long to do the things they do actually get done, and more often than not doing “god knows what” with their day. “What should I do about (him/her)?”, he asked.
“They are not the problem, you are. The correct question is what should we doing about you“, I said.
whoa…there’s a good way to begin losing a coaching client….
Reality check time though: the boss sometimes is the problem. It is the same with clients. Sometimes THEY are the problem.
Every so often when coaching or advising you have to thump someone right between the eyes and let them know that they are actually the problem. When it is time to deliver that moment of truth, hit ’em hard I say. There’s no point dancing around the subject, or using politically correct euphemisms. Sometimes being blunt is best. Get the pain over with quickly.
In this particular case the 2 partners of the firm had both contributed to the discussion, and it was apparent that the staff member was an enthusiastic worker who was focussed on doing what they though was the important. It turns out that the partner in charge had different ideas, but hadn’t actually told the staff member. There was no management of the basic activities…no setting of either priorities or boundaries…no guidance of development of the staff member…no nurturing of a valuable asset. Frankly the manager wasn’t managing; the boss was terrible at being a boss, and the staff member was persevering anyway. Full kudos where it belongs…
A positive and constructive conversation followed about some things the boss needed to learn about being a boss, and the interesting thing for me was that he immediately began comparing it to the work he does with clients. He absolutely got it because as he said: “sometimes the client is the problem. The clients problems aren’t the problem, the client is the problem. The best thing to do is hit ’em hard and tell them that, because nothing will change until they get that…so I get what you’re saying“.
Managing clients perhaps should be no different to managing staff then.
“Sometimes the clients “problems” are not actually the problem…the clients behaviour or attitude is”. You have to fix the client before you can fix the clients problems. Like managing staff, you have to manage clients too.
It’s the tough side of being a professional adviser: doing what has to be done and perhaps saying what nobody else will say to them, whether it is pleasant or not.
So when the professional relationship is just not going as it should, and the frustration begins to mount the thing to do is step back and have a good look at what the real problem is. Maybe it is you, or your firms service. Maybe. Maybe it is just mis-matched expectations between you and the client. Maybe it is just an issue which needs some discussion and clarification, or perhaps some education and guidance, or maybe just a bit of patience and quiet leading to bring things moving along as you hoped for.
But then maybe the problem is the clients behaviour or actions. My point is “don’t ignore the possibility”.
If it does transpire that the client is in fact the problem, then be prepared to face up to it and deal with it. Do it professionally, directly, succinctly, clearly and quickly. Get it done and then the clients’ problems can actually be addressed. If it remains un-adressed there is no doubt that problems will simply continue…or escalate. If it is not controlled and things escalate, then you have at the very least bad PR to deal with, or at the worst serious co mplaints to resolve which will be costly in money, time and stress.
However, if you address it properly one of two things will happen;
Either is a great outcome I reckon.