A Client, Collaborator or Colleague That Drains You With Too Many Demands, or Derails Your Morale, Needs to Be Fired From Your Worklife
Because for all the time you waste salvaging deteriorating relationships, you could instead be opening yourself up to doing great work with great people, and living a happy and healthy WorkLife as a result.
When You Know You Have to Fire Your Client, Your Collaborator or Your Colleague from Your WorkLife to Save Your Sanity: A Case Study:
Another Friday afternoon meeting with the client from hell, another weekend ruined by unrealistic demands. Those were Tony’s thoughts going into his meeting with George, and boy was he right. But this time he knew it was the beginning of the end of their relationship.
Tony knew he had to fire George as a client. He had to do it for his own morale and his mental health. He had to save himself from this toxic relationship, but as a freelancer this wasn’t going to be easy from a financial perspective. But let’s back up a little to understand Tony’s story, and how he found himself in this position.
Tony’s position as Marketing Executive at a non-profit organisation had been made redundant two years earlier. He had worked there for five years and really enjoyed his time. He was part of a small team, which meant he got exposure to all aspects of the job, and he had worked with really interesting companies, from business startups to SMEs in developing and building their marketing strategies.
It was always his dream to work for himself. The skills he’d developed, the experience he’d gained, together with the redundancy financial package he’d received, put him in a good position to work towards making his dream come true. And so he set out to find his first client. Enter George.
It was at a tech networking event that they first met and got chatting. Tony told George he was setting up as a freelance marketing executive, having worked in the industry for five years. George said he needed support with his marketing, suggesting this would be good experience for George, and that he could introduce him to fellow business owners. His first gig as a freelancer, Tony couldn’t believe his luck, he was on a high, and over the next few days he prepared for the first of what was going to become the Friday afternoon meetings with the client from hell.
In fact when Tony reflected on those initial words, “It’ll be good experience for you,” he now knew these words should have been a red flag. He didn’t need experience, he had five years of experience; and he soon came to learn, that experience as a freelancer doesn’t pay the rent, and that in his haste to get his first client he had sold himself short. He hadn’t read between the lines.- George’s lines, that is. Working for experience means working for very little money. And as for the introductions to George’s fellow business owners, well, that was never forthcoming. It was simply another ploy by George to sucker him in, and suckered in he was. Tony thought to himself: “boy, did he see me and all my naivety and misplaced trust coming!”
The Friday afternoon meetings became a weekly thing. They weren’t needed, nor were the 6pm calls George constantly made, by way of checking in, checking up, and most often making changes to what they’d agreed. But George insisted on the meetings, and he insisted they needed to be face-to-face at his office — a taxi ride across town in Friday afternoon London traffic.
There was so much wrong with this relationship. Apart from paying very little, George never paid on time. The Friday afternoon meetings, the late evening calls, the constant changes to the brief they’d agreed on, and the continuous demands for more work on Tony’s part, without sufficient financial renumeration was having a really negative impact on Tony’s morale and his mental health. His relationship with his girlfriend was suffering, because he never had time to spend with her, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to visit his parents, or seen his friends.
Time and time again Tony questioned why he was doing this. He felt it was because George was his first client, and he felt that he owed him. He also felt if he couldn’t deliver on this work. If he failed his client, he would be failing himself, he would be a failure, his freelance business would be a failure. And so he persisted, telling himself it would get easier, that George would come to recognise and value the good work he was doing, and that they’d develop a better working relationship.
That wasn’t to be. That Friday afternoon meeting was to become the final, fateful meeting from hell.
As Tony had come to expect from these meetings, George wanted to make yet more changes to the brief that they’d agreed on. He demanded more from Tony, and he said all of this needed to be completed by Monday morning. Tony said that wasn’t possible. He had a friend’s wedding the next day, and immediately after the meeting he was catching a train out of London and wouldn’t return until Sunday night. He had already told George this. In fact he had wanted to travel earlier in the day, and had asked George if they could have this meeting remotely. George refused and insisted Tony come to his office. He then kept Tony waiting for an hour.
George’s behaviour was always unsettling, but today it was completely erratic. He kept getting up from the table and pacing back and forth. When he was sitting, he just kept tapping the table. He didn’t engage in any eye contact. He wouldn’t listen to anything Tony was trying to say, and kept cutting him off and talking over him. Then about an hour into the meeting, when he demanded Tony work on the latest changes he needed over the weekend, and Tony told him he couldn’t, telling him again about the wedding he was going to, George completely flipped, shouting at Tony that he needed it done, and that if he didn’t do it, he wouldn’t pay him for any of the work he’d done on the project; and he’d tell everyone he knew how bad Tony’s work was. His final words were: “if you don’t do this, I’ll destroy you, and I’ll make sure you’ll never work as a marketing consultant again.”
Tony was dumbstruck. He had been feeling anxious throughout the meeting, now his blood pressure had risen sky high. He still doesn’t know how, but he somehow managed to hold it together. He got up from the table, and said: “We’re finished, this relationship is over, I’m terminating this project. We both know you owe me for the work I’ve done, I’m going to write that off, because I don’t want to have anything to do with you ever again. If you want to pursue this, if you want to bad mouth me, there will be repercussions, that I can guarantee you. I’ll be seeing my best friend who is a solicitor at the wedding this weekend. I’ll brief him fully on the situation. Here’s his card. Anything else you’ve got to say, say it to him.” With that Tony walked out of George’s office.
He never did hear from George again. Tony recognised he was a bully, and in standing up to him, he had disempowered him.
Although shaken by the whole experience, Tony also felt a great sense of relief. He felt he’d gotten his WorkLife back, and was determined not to lose it again. He knew he needed to define what that was — what it was he wanted, and as importantly what it was he didn’t want. In terms of the people he wanted to work with, and the work he wanted to do, and also making time for the people he wanted to spend time with outside of work, and the things outside of work he wanted to make time to do.
Tony picked up a copy of Small is the New Big by Seth Godin. One of the first questions Godin poses is: “How Dare You? How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” Going on to say: “I Dare You. I dare you to read any ten of these essays and still be comfortable settling for what you’ve got. You don’t have to settle for the status quo, for being good enough, for getting by, for working all night.”
This question, these words echoed loudly for Tony. He was determined to draw on the wisdom of the essays, the stories Godin shared, to give himself the feedback he needed to make his WorkLife work for him.
Tony drew the following wisdom from the essay/story: Do Less.
“Years ago, when I started my first company, I believed in two things: Survival is Success and Take the best project you can get, but take a project. I figured that if I was always busy and I managed to avoid wiping out, sooner or later everything would work out.”
“Maybe you need to be a lot pickier about what you do and for whom you do it.”
“Consider the architect who designs just a few major buildings a year. Obviously he has to dig deep to do work of a high enough quality to earn these commissions. But by not cluttering his life and his reputation with a string of low-budget, boring projects, he actually increases his chances of getting great projects in the future.”
“Take a look at your client list. What would happen if you fired half of your clients? If you fire the customers who pay late, give you a hard time, have you work on low-leverage projects, and are rarely the source of positive recommendations. Would your business improve?”
“Leaving off that last business project not only makes our profits go up, but it can also dramatically improve the rest of our lives.”
Words of Wisdom
Knowing when to pull the plug on toxic work relationships gives you more time to find good people to work with. That can be colleagues, collaborators or clients.
“The ability to change fast is the single best asset in a world that is changing fast.” Seth Godin
Do something that matters with people who matter. This is Tony’s motto for his WorkLife. This is the motto which guides him in deciding every project he takes on, and in how he lives his WorkLife today.
Today’s Featured Book is: Small is the New Big by Seth Godin
Today’s story was featured in my book: How To Use Your Voice To Express And Protect Your Identity from The School Of WorkLife Book Series.
WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:
The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.
I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.
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