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How to deal with a narcissistic client

Learning how to deal with a narcissistic clientWriting on a delicate but much needed topic like this one can be a hard thing to do. So with humility and concern for those who fall victim to these type of clients, I have opted to touch on this controversial topic. We have received many phone calls and emails in regard to what we are about to address. As a leader in the web development industry we are looked upon to provide leadership and direction to not only our clients but to other designers and developers as well. We provide a lot of coaching to start up development companies and one of the main concerns that development companies ask us about is how to deal with narcissistic business owners.

One of the first things we need to know is?

What are the attributes of a narcissistic business owner?

  • Not much of what you do ever makes them happy.
  • They want a golden egg but are only willing to pay pennies for it.
  • They try to monopolize your time without paying for it.
  • They constantly are changing everything.
  • They never really know what they want.
  • They can never settle on one item and call it complete.
  • If allowed, will drain you of all your time and resources.
  • They do not appreciate the time it takes to provide their services.
  • and nothing is every their fault.

These are just a few of the characteristics we have seen, have been shared with us and have dealt with personally. We have all had this type of client from time to time so we will address what the process is for dealing with these types of personalities. First and foremost, as I have mentioned in many blog posts before, a defined and in concrete website development process is a must. Having a process of how you do things, the time it takes you to do most standard development items provides a solid base and goes a long way in being able to stick to a charted path that you and the client created together.

Tip: Generally speaking you cannot win an argument with a narcissist even if you do win. You pretty much lose every time. Try to keep to the points and adhere to a schedule for the phone call.

What are the steps to dealing with a narcissistic client or business owner?

My first tip when dealing with a narcissist or anyone for that matter is to deal with them from a place of love, respect, compassion and understanding. These are good quality traits to have anyway. As a webmaster it is imperative that we show the utmost professionalism when working with our clients. They are the bedrock to our business and have to be put first. With that said, tip #1 is about providing your clients with the service they are paying for with the highest of standards by having all of your ducks in a row beforehand.

  • Schedule your calls and keep to the time allotted.
  • Have a process in place for every aspect of the project.
  • Have the topics you will be talking about agreed before hand and stay on point
  • Be very clear about what they are getting and let them know if you have other options available to them.
  • Communicate every step of the way on every aspect of the project.
  • Let your clients speak and take notes. When they are finished, make sure you read back to them everything they have asked for.
  • Follow up each conversation (if you can with those meeting notes) for yours and their records.

Knowing your steps, your processes, and time for project completion goes a long way to help to keep everyone on track.

My second tip is to not expect to please a narcissist. Being able to identify this type of client sometimes comes too late. You have already taken their money and have committed time and resources to the project. The best that you can do is stick to the above mentioned processes and project outlines and to stand your ground. Any sign of weakness or hesitation makes them think they have a foot hold over you and will often times threaten to sue you if you do not adhere to every demand they place on you. Trying to please a narcissist can literally consume all of your time and resources. We know of two companies that literally lost both of their web businesses because of trying to please this type of demanding client which not only required all that the client paid, but the developers started investing their own money into the project until they were broke; completely out of fear.

Listen, Present and Repeat

Learn how to listen to a narcissistic clientOne of the key traits to a narcissistic client is the demand for your attention and ear. They will talk for hours if you let them without accomplishing much of anything. There are some cases that have been brought to our attention that those not getting all of the time they want with you can turn into anger and even threats. Not to mention nasty emails complaining about how you are a liar and are breaking your contract. As I have mentioned before and will mention again, having a well established step-by-step plan and sticking to that plan is your best bet. You can always go back to your meeting notes and point out exactly what was said and agreed too. Always present your points to these type of clients in docile terms and never give blatant criticism. Challenging a narcissist will accomplish nothing because they think they are always right and you are always wrong and often times get offended if you criticize, so if you must, be gentle and use your notes to back up your position. Listening to your clients is very important, but there is a limit. You have to set that limit and it will be unique to each web company and or individual. If the client is demanding hours of your time, simply let them know that you are getting beyond project scope and now getting into consulting time of which you charge for.

Big Tip: often times you will be asked if can do (a or b) to the site, can you add this or that, will this work if we do this and if we take this approach what kind of outcome will we get? In the hours long conversations it is very easy to tell a client yes to all of their questions because there is pretty much nothing that is impossible for a good web developer to do with a website. However, your yeses can get you into serious trouble because your narcissistic client will take your yeses as a commitment to you producing them within the same budget. Be very clear that though you can produce whatever their needs are, anything outside the already produced project scope will require a change order and additional funding.

and finally...

Let the client know you appreciate their feedback, and offer praise. Not in a condescending or patronizing way, but in a respectful appreciative way. Everyone needs pat's on the back, your clients and yourself included. Letting them know you are on the same team with the same end goals can go a long way to helping them understand that you understand them and you want what is best for them and their business.


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