Difficult Clients: On Working With People, but Without Certain Other People
Monday September 21, 2020
Since you’re a business owner and an INTJ, I wanted to ask about something that has been bothering me lately. I own what I now understand to be the “stereotypical INTJ business”. I provide IT services. Most of the time it’s just me in a quiet room with a bunch of hardware sitting around, and the introversion factor is nice. Plus I’m good at managing systems. But lately I’m starting to hate my own business, even though I’m good at it (I think?).
Being honest I think I really just dislike some of the clients I’m working for. They contact me at all hours of the day, and I start to feel blamed for their problems, and then I end up writing some harsh words when I email or text them back. I always regret it after the fact. I get defensive, then offensive, then I crash. I feel like I need to take a week off, or a month off, or just go work for “the man”.
Is it common for an INTJ to start to hate their own business because of their clients? Do people really matter that much to us INTJs? What can I do about this?
Patrick—sorry to hear about this. I know what it’s like to realize you are working with clients who are not a good fit.
And to the degree that a given INTJ is not a people person, yes, I would expect that people will actually matter more to them and their business, in the “people seem to suck and they destroy my life” sense.
Not that people suck in general, but that the INTJ is not dealing actively with people issues, so the INTJ is in effect letting a psychological blind spot cause their life to feel like a tragic lesson in how much other people suck.
1. Sometimes you really do have to let clients go in order for your business to feel like a success again. I am sure you already know this, or feel this, intuitively. The problem is that doing anything about it usually seems like an absolute pain or a potential disaster in the making.
This is a huge downside to not being a people person. Sometimes you need to solve people problems, or else they’ll tend to accrue or pile up. And I find that the resulting delay in making decisions due to the “I’m not experienced here” factor can convince you that your business is not working. This is one of the worst feelings you can feel! The intuition then tends to jump on the “life is going to be awful” prophecy bandwagon really fast.
2. Don’t sweat the messaging too much—focus on how long it’s been since you moved that ball forward.
As a group, INTJs are not exactly known for breaking the news to people gently. If you’re in that box, at least try to be formal about it. And instead of focusing on the right wording, make sure the wrong wording isn’t in there. Try to avoid anything personal, because that usually goes deep on both sides and can turn the entire relationship into a prolonged game of perspectives-chess, rather than a business relationship.
Other traps include getting sucked back into the business relationship too easily, for example if there’s more money on the table, and failing to look after the needs of the client on your way out (“by the way, your project is dead in the water because I’m leaving, so you’re screwed”).
Put a date on your calendar by which you’ll part ways with your #1 “needs to go” client. Remember that this may even have upsides for them. And be sure to follow through.
3. It can help to write down some on-boarding lessons while you’re here. How might you have identified these clients beforehand? Are there specific personality types or traits with which you struggle?
I used to think that if a choosy client selected me, that meant that I was special. Boy was I wrong about that one—a lot of choosy clients are trying to convince you to work for them by talking about YOU rather than them. If they can build up some momentum, swinging your ego around like that, they’ll keep all of your concerns about THEM at bay.
Be careful if you get caught talking a lot about your experience and why you’re special, not just qualified. A lot of times that means something’s wrong and the focus is on the wrong person. Usually there’s a good balance of “I’m great, you’re great” in normal business discussions, if they even move to that topic.
4. Consider starting your own client selection framework. What kind of clients are a good match for you? Some business owners tell me they work best with teams that take on a lot of new projects. Other business owners tell me that they like clients who are curious and open to new project proposals from their INTJ vendor.
There’s also the concept of “red flags” and you may find it helpful to start keeping a list as part of your framework. Some examples of red flags:
- Do they sound desperate or helpless? Do they talk about you like you’re the superhero they need in their hour of tragedy?
- Do they text you? How’s their grammar? When do they text—what time of day? What day of the week?
- Do they complain about computers and throw their arms up when attempting the most basic computer-related tasks?
- Do they complain about their last business partner or vendor? Was the complaint nuanced and humorous, or blame-heavy and full of projections?
- Do they make demands?
This list can go on and on, and it should include aspects that concern your area of specialty, or your least-favorite aspects of work, communications, and business. For INTJs, the more subjective the better in some ways. Afterward you can run this by some uninterested third party and ask if any of your red flags seem too harsh.
5. Take your time, set fair policies, and communicate them. Have you thought about sleeping on those stressful emails? And maybe making that part of your business process or policy? Evening and weekend business communications are really risky, IMO, for high-stress INTJ business owners.
INTJs usually want to be responsive, but when we’re taken away from our “me time,” we can easily overdo an irritated response and send the wrong message.
Plus I don’t know about you, but I’m way less cranky and way more solutions-oriented after a good night’s sleep.
Every good business has policies. Do you have a work-hours policy? A policy is known as a “third point of reference”—a way to say, “nothing personal; it’s not me, it’s not you—I’m replying to you now because my business hours are already set by policy, and they’re in our contract.”
6. Identify relationship problems early so you can try different solutions. I’m ending with this one because nobody wants to go around firing clients, and I think we all want to be pretty nice to other people during the current pandemic. So it’s a good idea to ask yourself at frequent intervals: Am I enjoying this client relationship? Is it working for me?
Touching on these questions before any big fires start will help you to trust yourself more. You’ll intuitively recognize yourself as more of an effective people person, just by asking those questions more often.
This also gives you more time to try different solutions. For example, you can decide in advance to turn down that upcoming project in a polite way, or cut down your time spent with a client, or negotiate with them a little bit, or make some new policies and see if that helps. There are tons of things you can try.
But yeah, sometimes if you’re in over your head, a cessation of the working relationship really is a good call. If you can keep it professional, you’ll probably be OK and I’ll bet you’ll feel a lot better soon.
Patrick, I wish you and your IT business all the best. Enjoy that introversion time!
To the rest of you—I will close by emphasizing that IT can be an awesome career or job-space, and you can end up working with really fantastic people while paying the bills. There’s no “one and done” career choice for an INTJ, and in many cases even a poor career situation can be worked into something much better.
(Happy Batman Day!)
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