Business partnerships are traditionally ruled by a significant level of honesty, cooperation and trust, aiming at the maximisation of both parties’ benefit. This foundation, combined with the existence of multiple decision-making executives in the same business, which is quite common, tends to intensify the complexity of bilateral business relations. Simultaneously, the undoubted necessity for frequent productive communication is often dismissed for the sake of dealing with a heavy workload, poor time management and a generally wide variety of factors. Subsequently, this leads to the common case of disregard towards a healthy and effective communication process, which usually causes business relations to be dysfunctional and, more or less, toxic.
Toxic clients can largely affect both your business’s profitability and your personal and professional well-being. For that reason, behaviours of such nature shall not be dismissed. On the contrary, your business’s prosperity must be secured by adopting several necessary precautions, as much as being capable of tackling the issue in the case when it appears.
How to identify a toxic client
A healthy and efficient business relationship may be disturbed by a vast variety of factors. One of them would be the unspecified and unsure setting of your client’s goals. This happens regularly, especially in cases when those same goals are non-realistic and your client expects you to magically achieve them, as much as when the client expresses irrational demands or noticeable discomfort towards your ideas in their entirety, without providing you with a well-structured and logical rationale. The whole vagueness regarding your goal-setting and strategic planning process, as much as the interrupted, futile communication, constant opinion changes and large extent of irresponsibility, also signifies a toxic business relationship. That worsens when the client will not appreciate your business or even its representative as a person; all business relationships should be defined by mutual appreciation and respect for each party’s work and for the time invested in it. It is evident that your client is toxic, when what prevails instead is a certain disregard towards your work and professional values and a tendency to ignore the procedures that you always commit to following, as parts of a general unprofessional behaviour.
A toxic client relationship could be detected in even less obvious examples. That is quite normal, considering that both parties tend to protect their interests and act on the basis of their own profitability, which may occasionally cause casual disagreements that will disturb the peacefulness of your relationship. It is highly important, however, that both your client and yourself, put in some effort so that the occasional issues be resolved rapidly and the differences that obstruct your productivity be overcame. Situations when your client becomes extremely persistent, to the extent that they adhere to their own ides throughout your cooperation in its entirety, will also demonstrate your client’s toxic behaviour. That also applies to when, instead of compromises, your relationship with your client is mostly led by breaches of the terms set by both parties, disrespect towards your business hours or a nonexistent ethical responsibility. Have you ever witnessed any lack of guidance, minimal provision of essential information in regard to activities that shape your common strategy or an underlying resentment of the direction that your project is taking? All of those prove that your client can be toxic not only through their actions, but through blatant inactivity too.
How a toxic client can affect your work
Having mentioned several distinctive toxic client behaviour examples, one would wonder whether, in spite of everything, a such cooperation is worth investing in. Such deals are driven either by the amount of money that your toxic client is willing to spend or by various other factors that your business may gain from, such as managing to collaborate with a high-profile client that will enhance your brand awareness and, therefore, expand your client base. However, it is highly important to comprehend that incessant delays and procrastination will harm your productivity levels and distract you from the rest of your tasks. Therefore, it is vital to know that a cooperation defined by hardships and toxic behaviour is able to significantly damage plenty of other aspects of your business.
Practices such as ineffective communication, extreme dissatisfaction towards your ideas, misunderstandings regarding your processes, indecisiveness and incessant negotiation tend to consume more and more of your precious working hours. In many cases, you may be forced to adjust your schedule, ignore the rest of your tasks, dismiss the remaining of your important clients or even work beyond your regular hours, in order to satisfy that one toxic client.
Furthermore, your productivity levels depend on your energy and mood. A toxic client situation would not only consist a concern for your well-being at work, but also put your efficiency as a professional in grave danger. Your toxic client’s irrational requirements and unpredictable behaviour may result in affecting your own mental health by either damaging your self-confidence as a professional (e.g. imposter syndrome) or by triggering symptoms that indicate work-related stress, tension, negativity and/or the employee burnout syndrome. Tolerating your client’s toxic behaviour will not only put your work at risk, but also endanger your customers’ perception of your business and both your personal and professional well-being.
Why you attract toxic clients
The development of every professional relationship is, by all means, unpredictable. A seemingly unimportant change may cause a quite understanding and cooperative client to adopt a toxic attitude towards your work, productivity and mental health. Not rarely, the first red flags that indicate that a client is toxic appear in the beginning of your business relationship, or even during the primal stages of your initial communication process. A great question to ask yourself would be, are there any individual characteristics of a business’s identity that attract toxic clients? And if that is the case, what should one do in order to avoid the extent to which they attract a generally toxic clientele?
Let us begin by analyzing the most vital part of any modern business, which is its identity. An unsure business identity -and, subsequently, unclear vision, mission and values- would attract all kinds of clients, including toxic ones, whereas being straightforward about all of the above would mostly attract your actual target clientele. What drives a client’s choice to partner up with you is the realisation that parts of your brand identity are aligned with theirs. Establishing a clear brand personality that is reflecting your target clients’ values is key to gaining the clientele that is ideal for you.
Additionally, the primal stages of communication being carried out under false pretenses will often distract you from detecting a client’s toxic behaviour. Always make sure to be loud and clear about your goals, your standard procedures and the business ethics that you abide by. Avoid projecting a company image that is just not real; after all, a prosperous cooperation is what will result in profitability. Do not hesitate to trust your initial instinct when it comes to red flags. Instead, make sure that you set the right boundaries that will help you avoid the eventual exhaustion caused by toxic behaviour. Remain true to your values and do not fear saying no to a toxic client, prior to partnering up with them.
How to end your business relationship with a toxic client
It is extremely common not to be able to detect your client’s toxic behaviour at first, so that you can avoid a toxic business relationship. In different cases, what drives you towards ignoring the red flags and forming a collaboration of such nature may be the grave financial state of your business or any other related reason for that matter. It is quite rare to actually profit from that sort of situation; instead, ending your toxic business relationship becomes a necessity, in order to gain back your inner peace on a personal and professional level. Since that can be a very tricky but, simultaneously, important thing to do, let us present our take as to how you can handle it:
- A face-to-face or over the phone conversation is preferable to a mere email, not only as a way to avoid misunderstandings, but also because of the immediacy. As a consequence, your toxic client will most certainly perceive that your business relationship may be over, but he will also feel more valued than dismissed.
- Remain calm and friendly, even if your toxic client leans towards the exact opposite strategy. Choosing professionalism over losing your temper will help you avoid unnecessary conflict and, at the same time, minimize the chances of them badmouthing and defaming you after your cooperation officially ends.
- Listen to their version of events and present your own by being rational and not by exaggerating. Present all of the points that highlight the absolute necessity of your cooperation coming to an end, in the most delicate manner possible. Do not fear to take responsibility and apologize for your own faults, whether that applies to your case.
- Remain available and cooperative towards them. Do not hesitate to provide them with alternate solutions (e.g. a recommendation of businesses that provide the same services) and do not reject facilitating their transition, in the case when they ask you to do so. By doing that, you will not only be through with them once and for all, you will also manage to protect your business’s reputation.