Standing up to bullies – why negotiating well will keep you out of trouble

Who has not suffered from client bullies, i.e. clients who continuously make the most outrageous demands of a team or individuals?

These clients know that their business is so important to the service provider that they can take liberties and get away with this – and they do – again and again and again. The problem is that these clients are typically also the very ones who are the least pleasant to members of the team, especially more junior ones.

There are several linkages between these two characteristics, i.e. being highly demanding and extremely unpleasant. One may well have something to do with the personality of the individuals concerned. The other is that the client has probably learned relatively early on in their relationship with the service provider that they hold all the power and that they only have to say “jump” and the service provider will ask “how high” and then jump as high and fast as possible.

There is little we can do about the client’s personality short of avoiding them. There is however a lot we can do about teaching clients that if they ask for something extra that this will have consequences to the fees or scope of the project, i.e. for every additional concession that the client is demanding off the service provider, the service provider should be asking for a counter-concession. If we fail to apply this basic negotiation concept clients will learn sooner or later (and most learn very soon) that they can ask for everything. The more that they ask, the more difficult they make it for the team members to refuse and in time they become unbearable.

If on the other hand a client if shown from the very start that additional requests may impact on the fees – they will become more circumspect with regards to making demands and will usually also be more respectful of the team.

In a view cases some clients will insist on asking for more and refuse to give a counter-concession. Worse still – they may threaten to fire the service provider and actually carry out this threat.

In that case my usual experience is – good riddance. Good service providers will always be able to find new clients that are willing and able to maintain a more reasonable and balanced relationship. Even if these were to pay lower rates, the reduced hassle and stress is worth quite a bit. Usually these clients will also be more profitable as they will pay for value received – including service.


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