Business Leadership Lessons from a Bad Client

We have all heard the expression “turn that frown upside down,” when we are upset or have a negative experience. It may be a cliché, but there is great wisdom in this advice if you just take a step back. There is another saying that “perspective is everything.” And when it comes to absorbing the meaning of your professional experiences this rings especially true. In the world of business, sales, and client relationships, sometimes negative experiences can come in many forms, including hostile communication and non-communication, both of which can be highly frustrating. Recently, I had a negative client experience that gave me a serious moment of pause and reflection. Sometimes, our professional interactions are so bizarre and negative that we aren’t sure how to process them.

When you have a negative interaction or experience with a client, you should reflect on your own behavior and attitude to see what you could have done differently to result in a positive outcome. However, there are times with clients are simply being unreasonable or irrational due to their own professional stresses and shortcomings. These are the times when you need to step back and see the good in the bad, and how you can turn these situations into teachable moments in regards to leadership and professional conduct. In the end, even the negative experiences and the bad clients can teach us powerful lessons that make us better business leaders.


Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years from having negative client experiences…

  • Communicate and manage expectations. Notice I didn’t say “set expectations,” because expectations are never carved in stone, and your client relationships should be collaborative adaptable to serve the needs of their business. However, you can control how well you communicate. Your job as a professional service provider – whether you’re a consultant or a product manager or anyone else who handles relationships with clients – is to be proactive about communicating and seeking feedback along the way. And hopefully, your client will give clear instructions and constructive feedback, and respond to your follow-up communication in ways that keep the process on track. Recently, I had a client fire me out of the blue, without so much as a hint that he was unhappy. During the time we were working together, he gave zero feedback about my performance as well as his expectations; I had been communicating about the progress happening with his project on my end, and based on what I was seeing and hearing, I thought we were on track for a successful outcome. Needless to day, I was stunned when I received a bizarre, hostile email saying that I was totally off-mark and he was cutting off the relationship immediately. When clients act like this, it’s hard to bring them back or make them understand how they could have participated in the process effectively. No matter who your client is and how well you trust each other, make clear, proactive communication your main ingredient for approaching client relationships and executing projects.


  • It’s all about relationships. All business is ultimately about relationships. People are natural creatures of habit, and we are always looking for security and predictability. In business, this comes in the form of people, products, and services that we can trust to help solve our problems and drive our growth. Bad clients can teach you a lot about how NOT to treat others in all professional capacities, including your own internal team and peers at your organization. When you seek to improve your business relationships at every turn, you’ll maximize the benefits that each of those individuals brings to the table – in turn, boosting your own performance, attitude, and potential for achievement. If you’ve ever had a client who made you feel bad, who made you question your abilities, who ruined your whole day…well, now you know what NOT to do with people in your business life who see you as an authority figure. Bad clients (and bad bosses) rule by fear and extinguish people’s enthusiasm; great clients inspire devotion and bring out the best in everyone. Which sort of business leader do you want to be?


  • Roll with the punches. This is another one of those sayings that you are probably familiar with, but for good reason. As you know by now, life always has a new challenge waiting for you around the corner. Every new day presents opportunities and obstacles that we have to overcome. You can either let negative experiences with bad clients consume you and bring out the worst in you as well. Or, you can do the right thing and turn these situations into teachable moments that help you understand how NOT to do business and treat others. It might be easy to let your blood boil and stew about the way you were treated. Just realize that not everyone has a high level of professional and interpersonal skills. And some people are simply temperamental and irrational. In these cases, it’s not you, it’s them. Everyone is an imperfect human being and we all have various issues and shortcomings, some of which we deal with better than others. So take a deep breath, hit the gym or your favorite restaurant for lunch, and think about how you’re going to move on to more positive clients.


Believe me, I know it’s not easy to let go of negative client experiences. Especially when they are out of the blue, or so irrational that it leaves you scratching your head. Just remember, sometimes life throws you curveballs that don’t make sense, that cause you anger, or leave you feeling bewildered. Just let these unfortunate situations remind you that building positive relationships is the key to being successful in life and in business. And just like in your personal life, not every relationship is meant to last. That’s why you need to keep a positive mindset, constantly look for ways to improve in your professional role, and be willing to move on from negative experiences – and negative clients. Instead of spending time being angry about bad clients, put that energy into building bigger relationships with the great clients who appreciate what you do.


Gregg Schwartz

This is a guest post by Gregg Schwartz. He is the Director of Sales at Strategic Sales and Marketing, a B2B lead generation company based in Connecticut. His company helps technology companies and various startups and small-to-mid-size businesses in the business-to-business sales category generate sales leads and improve their sales processes.

Mercy - CBNation

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