This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

This week’s tip is brought to you thanks to my extraordinary partnership with co-author, Charlie Green. It answers this question: What do you do when your client is a jerk?

“Jerk” could show up a variety of ways—for example, being disrespectful to your team, or being generally difficult to work with.

Here’s the thing: these situations all have one thing in common that requires our attention, and it’s not the jerky client. The most relevant common denominator, when it comes to trust building, is … you.

Say what?

Charlie has coined many phrases worth remembering, and one of the most compelling is this: “There’s no such thing as a difficult client; there is only a relationship that isn’t working well.”

[Tweet “Paradigm shift: “There’s no such thing as a difficult client; there is only a relationship that isn’t working well.” @charleshgreen #getreal”]

That’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re feeling wronged by someone. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Pick your jerk-iest client. Now consider this: somebody loves ‘em, even if it’s only an adoring toddler or a treasured pet. There’s also a good chance he or she is suffering from some kind of negative emotion—fear, stress, anxiety—that’s causing the jerky behavior. (Side note: it’s oh-so-easy to act negatively in response, which means we’re being jerks, too.)

The only productive, actionable way forward starts with a mindset. If there’s no such thing as a difficult client, only a relationship that isn’t working well, then you’re a part of the problem. And you can be part of the solution.

By contrast, calling them a “jerk” has you tossing away the key and rendering yourself powerless by saying, “It’s their fault.” In which case there’s nothing to be done except for them to change. And we all know how well that works.

All this is not to say clients are always right, and never behave badly. Sometimes, in fact, you’ve gotta just cut your losses and leave the scene. But in truth, those situations are far less frequent than we imagine.

Make It Real

This week, take inventory of the jerks and semi-jerks on your client roster. For each one on the list, take a moment to think about why they might be acting the way they’re acting, and reflect on what it is about the relationship that isn’t working well. That’s it—just think differently about the situation. Whatever makes sense to do next will naturally arise.

Learn More

Read Charlie’s original article called, “My Client is a Jerk,” or learn the five steps to a better problem statement in Chapter 24 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).