In Part 1 of this article, I gave you some ideas on how to spot a crazymaker client (or student, or business partner, employee, or mastermind group member – whomever you have a close business relationship with).
Now that you’ve got a list of how to spot them, you might be able to avoid getting into a business relationship with a potential crazymaker client. Sometimes you don’t know you’ve got a crazymaker client until you’re already working with them because they’re good at hiding their crazymaking traits until they’ve won your trust.
I think it’s time to bring in the pros, so I interviewed five psychotherapists about how to deal with crazymakers. I chose mental health professionals who were also small business owners, as I thought they’d have some specific insights into dealing with difficult people in your business life.
Your own happiness and the health of your business must be your first priority.
When someone’s repeated behavior causes you concern, you have a right to protect yourself. Remember, you’re looking for patterns of behavior and how that client makes you feel.
Having someone act badly once may be a coincidence or a bad day; when they do it a second and third time, you’ve spotted a crazymaker and you need to handle it.
The four basic steps
- First, admit to yourself that this is an unhealthy business relationship. Trust your gut when something doesn’t feel normal. Check out Part 1 of this article where I talk about some ways to spot a crazymaker client.
- Second, if you’re unsure you are perceiving the situation clearly, speak with your colleagues, mentor or mastermind group to double-check your feelings about the situation and get an outside perspective.
- Third, give yourself permission to require boundaries in your business and be willing to enforce those boundaries as necessary.
- Fourth, ask your client to change their behavior, but don’t expect it to happen. They’ve gotten along for many years with this type of behavior and they’re unlikely to change just because you ask them to. If the relationship is worth saving, it’s worth having this crucial conversation and asking for change.
18 ways to deal with Crazymaker Clients
There’s an old saying, “Rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.” Remember that the reward that crazymakers are seeking is a sense of control and power, typically by creating a negative atmosphere and/or making you doubt yourself. This can also manifest as needing a lot of attention, again to control the relationship and get their needs met.
If you allow these behaviors to persist, you are rewarding this toxic behavior and it will continue.
- Put everything in writing. Get them to sign off on any major decisions, project plans, designs, and task priorities in writing. Psychologist Wendy Pitts Reeves told me, “Set boundaries about what you expect, in writing, and then they can choose to comply or not. Be clear about your policies, procedures, fees, cancellation policies, schedule, and availability.”
- Constantly push back to those agreed-upon boundaries. Don’t let them keep bending the rules (sadly, about 50% will try to bend the rules). Learn to say no. Don’t say yes, just to avoid conflict or because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Here are several ways to learn how to say no.
- Tell them when something is outside the scope of the original project or agreement, and that it will cost them extra (or that you can’t do it).
- Set and manage expectations. Tell them what’s going to happen next and how long it will take. If they want to accomplish something in 4 weeks that you know takes 6 months to accomplish, say so.
- Remind them what will happen if they break the contract.
- Talk to them about their behavior and ask them to change it. Be clear about what behavior, exactly, you want from them.
- Get them to pay up-front, or in deposits before you do more work for them.
- Educate them on the process you use, on unfamiliar vocabulary, and on anything that might hinder communication.
- Be clear about deadlines, especially when they owe you information or a decision, or they have to take a certain action by a specific date.
- Put your fees, price list, and any other financial information in writing, preferably in a contract. Have them sign the contract.
- Limit communication to scheduled appointments, or scheduled hours, if that is what your contract calls for; don’t answer emails just because your Inbox indicator flashes. If you’ve told them you don’t work evenings and weekends, never answer emails or phone calls from them on evenings or weekends.
- Check your Caller ID, so you know when it’s the crazymaker calling. If you are busy, or it’s outside the scope of your available hours, let voicemail pick it up. Get back to them at a convenient time.
- If you will be out of the office for a day or longer, email them in advance to notify them. Tell them when you will be away and when you will return.
- If they twist what was said verbally in a phone call or face-to-face discussion, use email to communicate. If you must speak with them by phone, Zoom or face-to-face, follow up all conversations with an email “summary” of key points, action items and deadlines you both agreed upon. Keep all emails, even after the project is over.
- Don’t let their crisis become your crisis. If you’ve stated that you are not available for immediate tasks, don’t do an “emergency” task just to please the client; they’ll come to expect this type of behavior from you again and again. If it’s a true emergency and you agree to help them, explain to them what your additional fee is.
- Keep asking them what they are going to do to resolve their own problems. Don’t try to fix everything for them. Empower them to solve their own problems and come up with creative solutions. Help them to create action plans and to implement them. (This is especially true in mastermind groups and when working 1:1 with coaching/consulting clients.)
- Ask them what outcomes they want. Make them design specific, concrete goals. How can either of you know, for sure, whether they’re getting value from working together if you’re not clear about what the goals are?
- If the client doesn’t comply with the rules, if their attitude and behavior are causing problems and they’re not willing to change, let them go. Walk away from the business relationship. It is not worth hanging on to a client who is harming you and your business. I know, this is a painful decision. But how long will you tolerate bad behavior once you’ve asked for a change in the behavior?
Don’t get defensive
Don’t get into an argument with a crazymaker or spend extraordinary amounts of time and energy defending yourself. They seek power, and when you become defensive, you have given them that power. Instead, listen to them, repeat back to them what you’re hearing, but don’t fall into their trap. Do not play their game.
Wendy says, “Stay neutral. Thank them for sharing their comments and thoughts, but don’t get into an argument with them about what’s right or wrong.”
Say something like, “It’s interesting that you heard me say X when I really said Y, and I’m a little curious about that,” or ” I notice this certain behavior keeps happening and I’m curious about why you keep doing that.” Not judgmental or critical, just putting it out there.
Then pay attention to their reaction. If they’re defensive, you’re not likely to get anywhere; if they’re open and interested in continuing the discussion, the relationship might be worth saving. (They might be defensive at first, so wait a few days to see what happens next.)
A great final tip from Wendy Pitts Reeves: “Seek consultation. Talk to colleagues and friends, your coach or mastermind group, to think out loud about this problem. Someone who has a little distance, someone whose advice you trust and respect. State the facts, state how it makes you feel (you’re already emotionally involved and you can’t see clearly). They can help you be objective and get clarity about blind spots, and can brainstorm about what to do in each situation. Many small business owners work alone and having a group of people who you can connect with around things like this is essential.”
No one wants to think that this will happen to them, yet many, many people emailed me or posted blog comments after Part 1 of this article to say that this had, indeed, happened to them. Keeping your eyes open to people’s behavior and being willing to deal with problems when they arise will make your business a much happier place.
Did you find this blog post helpful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And if YOU have any suggested ways to deal with crazymakers, I’m all ears!