Boundaries are a fairly simple thing really. They mark out where our property begins and someone else’s property ends.

We have personal space boundaries that are allowably encroached by loved ones and strongly enforced with those we don’t know.

We should also be setting strong boundaries with clients. Not only in when they can communicate with us (no evening weekend calls for things that aren’t emergencies) but how they can communicate with us.

The fact that your clients treat you like crap is your fault. It may be that you didn’t vet them properly (which is a topic for a different post) or maybe your simply not setting your boundaries properly.

OH profanity

We all know that clients can over react to things that happen to their site. They get some email from their host that really isn’t a big deal, but they don’t understand half the words in it and get scared.

Then they email you concerened and you calm them down.

This is all an expected part of the job.

I had one client who did all of that, but the email was just a bit different.

It included copious amounts of swearing and had some things directed at me.

Now if we’re working together and you hit your thumb with a hammer profanity is something that I’d sort of expect to hear. I’m likely to even use some if it happens to me.

I don’t expect or tolerate it from clients though.

At all.

So my reply went something like:

Hey $client, I got your email but I don’t tolerate swearing like that in any communications to me. I’m not dealing with anything in the email (actually I only read the first 2 sentences) until you can resend it without all the swearing.
In the future I’m going to delete and not reply to any email that contains swearing like that. I simply don’t tolerate swearing in my business communications and won’t work with anyone that sends them.

No longer did I get profanity laced emails (really I had only got one) and we continued to communicate properly for another year as we worked on projects together.

Double Hangup

I once had a client that had a bit of a temper problem. When things didn’t go quite their way they started yelling.

I found this out when they wanted to use a cheap shared host for their online store. This cheap host simply wasn’t PCI (security stuff) compliant and we couldn’t use it.

That meant we had to jump up to $20/month in hosting which really isn’t very expensive at all.

Well the client started yelling at me about nickle and diming him and that I should just make his server work. He wasn’t going to sign my form saying that he understood he wasn’t security compliant and it’s not my fault.

So I hung up.

The client called me back saying we must have been cut off and then started yelling.

So I hung up again.

When he called back I finally got a word in which went something like:

Hey, I don’t care if you yell at your employees, but if you yell at me again you can find someone else to work with. I don’t stand for that type of treatment and you’re an adult who should know better. The only one that gets to yell at me and I continue to interact with is my kid.

I set my boundary firmly. My client decided that they did know how to have a reasonable discussion and funny enough they even wanted to work with me again, though I seem to always be busy.

You’re treated like crap because…

If your clients treat you like crap it’s your fault in not setting boundaries. Sure maybe you had a tough home life and when you said NO to anything your parents acted like children.

Maybe they withdrew their love from you with snide remarks.

So get some help to deal with it (Cory miller is so awesome and honest about his counselling endeavours). My wife and I go see a counselor when we struggle with things together.

Maybe getting to talking to a professional is a step that is way too big, so start with reading a great book I just finished called Boundaries which is all about setting boundaries in your relationships.

Start setting your boundaries with people that you love and love you, and know that you’re working on boundaries.

Then put a stop to your clients behavior. Take responsibility for continuing to let it happen.

Yes, you’re going to loose some clients. You’re going to choose not to work with some clients that won’t respect proper boundaries.

Guess what, you’ll like your job again and love the clients you have.

Because they respect your boundaries.

photo credit: pmiaki cc

4 responses to “Clients treat you poorly because of your boundaries”

  1. Andy Avatar

    I’m really happy to hear you say this. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only coder who doesn’t enjoy dropping frequent f-bombs :).

    Speaking of f-bombs, let me add my experience to yours:

    If a client uses strong profanity in the first conversation you have with them, chances are they won’t actually care about you and won’t value your opinion. A considerate person holds off on heavy-duty words until they know the other person better. Why risk offending someone you just met, unless you *know* they use the same language?

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      My mom always said (and I agree) that most swearing just means you took the easy way out of being descriptive with your words.

  2. Darren Stuart Avatar

    You make some great points Curtis, I have had these sorts of run ins before. I think another issue is sometimes when you freelance for agencies they think of you as an employee instead of a business. I have had to remind numerous clients over the years that I am not an employee(might be a topic for a future post for you).

    I would also add to this don’t be afraid to fire a client if they keep on crossing over those boundaries.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I work with very few agencies because of that exact mentality, I’m not their employee.

      I always figure that the first time is okay. Once you see the boundary and cross it, you’re a fired client. I simply don’t have time (rather I have better things to do) than babysit a ‘child’ client.