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How Do You Deal With a Client Who Is a Bully?

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How Do You Deal With a Client Who Is a Bully?

As business owners we may feel it’s important to please the customer at all costs; even at the expense of our own values and self-respect.

But does any one individual have the right to mistreat, abuse or demand illegal behaviour from us? The customer philosophy that ‘customers are always right, even when they are wrong’ ceases to apply if it means jeopardising your self-value or even worse breaking the law.

Recently on social media, an accountant related how a client of hers bullied his wife to enter expenses as business related when they were obviously personal. When it came to tax time, his new accountant determined that these items were actually a fringe benefit. The male client rudely, forcefully and with threats attempted to bully her to leave the deductions as he saw fit. Knowing that she would be breaking the law, she refused. He stated he would not pay her unless she did as he told her. What would you have done in her position? What have you done?

What is a bully? The Cambridge Dictionary states a bully as, “Someone who hurts, or frightens someone else, often over a period of time, and often forcing them to do something that they do not want to do.”  

Let’s examine four methods to see how we can diffuse a situation and still retain our integrity:

1. Do not take the client’s behaviour personally.

When you are confronted by a bully, their behaviour is the same with everyone they make contact with. Their family, the supermarket checkout employee or a telemarketer. Understand that they are insecure individuals with a negative pattern they use day in and day out.

Regardless of how they make you feel, take a step back, take a deep breath and keep your integrity as a person. Work instead to build a relationship with the individual who is being a bully, ask them questions to better understand their point of view. See if you can find some common ground to encourage them to relax around you. Make them the centre of attention and see if this helps the client to become more reasonable.

2. Diffuse the bully’s power, by taking equal ground.

Make the client aware of their behaviour and confront them. Be specific about how their demands, tone of voice or use of language is not acceptable. Explain your stance in a firm, but respectful manner. Particularly, if the client expects you to break the law, make sure they understand clearly why you are unable to comply to their request. Remember, every action has a consequence, inform the client of what will occur if they fail to abide by your request.

3. Bring others into the conversation.

Sometimes, it is a good idea to involve others in the conversation or process. If the bully is a staff member in a bigger firm, it might be prudent to inform their superior about the situation and share their correspondence so that they can experience the bully’s communication. If they are the business owner, you can request another staff member answer their calls or respond to their emails. If you work for yourself, you can inform the bully that in future all phone calls will be recorded. These are all tactics that might help to diffuse a heated situation.

4. Remove yourself totally.

After you have used reasoning, included others into your situation and clearly articulated the situation in full to the client who is a bully, you might find that you have exhausted all avenues. From this point, you might end the conversation politely, but firmly. If you are a member of a team, ask another team member to contact the client after they have had time to calm down. If you are the owner of the business and work for yourself, this may not be possible. It might be time to discontinue any further work and request that the client finds someone else to help them.

No one has to endure being bullied for any reason. In particular, for your own self-esteem and peace of mind, you have every right to expect the same level of respect that you offer others. Remember, no amount of money is worth sacrificing your personal integrity or breaking the law for.

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