Bully Clients and How to Deal with Them as a Consultant

by Vault Consulting Editors | August 12, 2011

by Kristine Schoonmaker, MyConsultingLife.Com

The subject of bullies has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. But bullies don’t just exist on the playground, on Facebook or in the halls of local high schools. “Mean girls” (or guys) can be found at the office too. Can you imagine being yelled at, cursed at and even kicked out of the room by a client? What about being intimidated and raked over the coals every week in your status meetings? Seem crazy?Office Bullying

Luckily, many never experience this. However, given the high stakes, scrutiny and visibility of most consulting projects, sometimes the pressure can cause clients to act out. In fact, some find it easier to justify “being tough” on consultants because of the high price they pay for their services.

So, how would you react if faced with a situation like that with YOUR client? With most firms stressing a strong emphasis on delivering exceptional client value, you can find yourself in a sticky situation if you aren’t prepared. Here are a few tips that can help.

The first step: Admitting there’s a problem.

Before you can fix the problem, you have to first recognize that you are in fact the target of bullying. How will you know? Here are a few examples that might help you spot a workplace bully:

  • • Yelling at you or others
  • • Grandstanding or berating team members in meetings
  • • Needling or prodding you to “back you into a corner” or intimidate you one-on-one
  • • Constantly setting unrealistic expectations that they know you cannot meet

Once you know there is a problem, you have to navigate your way through it, especially when you are caught in the moment without reinforcements. While professional opinions may differ, these are things that have worked well for me:

  • Keep your cool. Remain calm and professional at all times. Reacting with more bad behavior will only fuel their fire and could possibly land you in hot water.
  • Refocus the conversation on the issue or situation, not the emotional, personal attack. You might say something like “I don’t understand how that will help us to address the issue at hand. Let’s focus on how we can fix the issue and move forward.”
  • Don’t show weakness – that’s what they want. Don’t believe me? I actually had a client say to me once, with delight, “Ooh, I smell weakness!” Remain unemotional and secure in your own position. Regardless of your age, rank or experience, everyone deserves to be treated with professional respect and courtesy.
  • Be ready to walk away and remove yourself from the situation. It is NEVER acceptable to be treated disrespectfully by a client or co-worker. You might say something like “It seems our conversation has taken an unproductive turn, so I am going to excuse myself for now. When we can resume a constructive conversation I’ll be happy to continue our discussion.”
  • Enroll advocates by talking with your leaders or a mentor about the situation right from the start. Let them know what things have happened, what actions you’ve taken and solicit their help or advice to address the situation appropriately.

The bottom line: if you find yourself in a confrontational situation or feel uncomfortable about the way a client is treating you, take the high road, exit the situation gracefully and go right to your supervisor to get their help and perspective. In this consultant’s book, even the most important client isn’t worth having to deal with inappropriate behavior.

Kristine Schoonmaker is The Career & Lifestyle Coach for Consultants and founder of MyConsultingLife.com. Her bi-weekly ezine Accelerate offers practical insider advice and quick tips from a former consulting exec to help YOU take greater control of your career and stay engaged in your personal life from the road. If you’re ready to have it all – an amazing career in consulting without giving up the lifestyle, relationships and experiences you want, get your FREE subscription now at www.myconsultinglife.com.

Filed Under: Consulting


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