This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Have you ever felt bullied by a client? Or at least a little intimidated? Today’s inspiration for what to do comes from a client of mine who once shared with me how he dealt with his own difficult customer.

The role model in this scenario is Heber Sambucetti, an Associate Director with Accenture who has worked closely with many seasoned executives over his career.

Heber (pronounced EH-ver) shared his story when I interviewed him seven years ago about what trusted advisorship meant to him. I asked Heber if he had a “proudest moment”—a time when he knew something important had shifted in a relationship. Here’s what he said:

“Once I turned a relationship from the individual being incredibly chastising and critical of everything—someone much more senior than me—to that person being a champion and educator.

“One day, after a series of interactions, I just had to lay it on the table. I said, ‘If you want to make me feel like sh** and perspire every time I talk to you, then you’re on target. But here’s the thing: I think I can learn from you. It’s true I don’t know everything, and we have a common goal of success with this project, so I need you to teach me instead of criticizing me.’

“The person was taken by complete surprise and the relationship took a dramatic turn for the better. It was an intense moment. I ran out of deodorant. But I just had to say what was there.”

Heber’s response is a perfect example of personal risk-taking as a trust-builder—in fact, being willing to express your own emotions is #5 on Charlie Green’s and my list of six risks to take to build trust. It also illustrates how important it is to be willing to go toe-to-toe with someone whose de facto style is one of intimidation.

Perhaps even more impressive was the point that Heber then made about taking responsibility for relationships gone wrong:

“When a relationship isn’t working, it’s easy to approach it from the perspective that you’re not doing anything and this person is beating you down. The question I always ask myself is, what am I doing to make the relationship better—or worse? What’s my piece to own? How have I let it fester? Holding yourself and others accountable are keys to relationships that work.”

Well said, Heber. And well done.

Make It Real

This week, consider those relationships where you’ve lost trust because you were too quick to back down. What would constructive confrontation look and sound like instead?

Learn More


Read about the difference between client service and client servility, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on the ten fundamental truths about trust (which includes “there is no trust without risk” in Chapter 1 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).