Problem Client or Client with a Problem?

Problem Client

How often do you describe someone as a problem client?

We hear about problem children, problem bosses and problem customers. Immediately, images spring to mind of grumpy, unreasonable people and we become irritated. We think why can’t they be more reasonable, why do they have to be so awkward? So we try and change them…and guess what happens? They become more unreasonable and resistant to change. We decide that they really are a problem client and get rid of them. Or if it is a problem child we try and “fix” or “treat” the child. What we are doing is treating people like things–not as people like us, but problems or obstacles.

I hear you say “But some people are just rude/thoughtless/ evil.”

Evil begins when you treat people like things. Problem Client?

A great way to stop yourself getting furious about something is to get curious about it. Have you ever wondered why they act the way they do? How does the world look from their point of view? What is upsetting them? What do they see as the problem?

Is it You–or Me?

How often do we drive along the motorway complaining about those we pass as slow coaches (or worse) and those who pass us as maniacs? Perhaps the slow person was a nervous driver in the car that can’t go faster or the “maniac” was rushing to his ill wife’s side.

Often in a mediation, I will hear both parties say “I’m being reasonable, it’s them that are being unreasonable.” And both are telling the truth to an extent. We all want to be right, we all want the other person to see our point of view. Yet no one wants to listen. My job is to help people see that it doesn’t have to be one person winning and the other losing,  maybe there is some common ground so that both can gain something and move on.

The common reaction to this is “Well why should I care? Why should I see their point of view?  They don’t care about my point of view.” In “The Other Side is Not Dumb”, Sean Blanda shows how this attitude backfires.

My response is “Is doing what you’re doing now getting you what you want?” It rarely does.  Not only does evil begin when you treat people like things, but you don’t actually get what you want either.

So you can choose to react to the other person’s bad behaviour, or you can choose to do something that may resolve the problem, or at least lets you move on.

Client with a Problem

If you see the person as a client with a problem, your whole attitude will change. Then you choose whether you try and help them with that problem or not. Treating angry and awkward customers with dignity respect and courtesy will always benefit you. Being curious will stop you being furious. Why are they so upset? What is it that they really want? Is it something you can provide? If not, let them know without blaming. Separate the person from the problem.

The signs in hospitals, buses and other public places which say “Assaults on our staff will be punished” remind me of a  wonderful quote about discipline and children:

Discipline is helping a child solve a problem. Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem. To raise problem solvers, focus on solutions not retribution. LR Knost

Research by the Crucial Conversations team found that the more positive interaction and dialogue there is between staff and clients, the lower the assaults.