Dealing with clients who are acting unprofessional

For some of us school was a rough time, especially when it came to things like the playground, when we found ourselves on the receiving end of a bully’s wrath.

If you were like me, there was always those moments where you wondered to yourself what being an adult would be like. It was easier to imagine a world where you didn’t have to deal with that kind of stuff anymore. But bullies grow up like the rest of us and find jobs like the rest of us. And in some circumstances, we’re forced to deal with those same people in the workplace.

I want to preface everything I’m about to say: I’m only scratching the surface here. There’s been a lot going on over the last few months like the #MeToo movement and many brave people who are gaining the confidence to stand up to and say something. I can’t begin to imagine some of the pain that they’ve gone through and I don’t want to minimize that in this episode. That said, while not all of us go through traumatic experiences like that, we find ourselves still dealing with issues in the workplace while still trying to be professional and productive. This episode is about those experiences and dealing with them on a day-to-day basis.

First things first, it helps to set your own standards. As your co-workers or clients get to now you, they try to figure out the kind of person and personality you are. I’ve watched this happen in office environments where people will push in a few places to see where someone draws a line or pushes back.

What I learned — especially as a young designer — was that it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. If you set a comfort level with everyone, don’t let them change it. One small thing can snowball into a larger problem if people are expecting a reaction different from the one you usually give them.

If people are acting inappropriate or unprofessional around you, don’t encourage it.

I say this because I caught myself doing this on more than one occasion. It wasn’t blatant either — my small chuckle (while being uncomfortable) sent the wrong signal and I didn’t realize it. It’s a hard habit to break, because I tend to make a small laugh when I’m uncomfortable. I had to find a different way to deal with situations where I felt triggered. I ended up learning to deflect or change the subject in a calm manner.

That said, there’s only so much you can do. Eventually your supervisors may need to know. Hopefully, if you work in a supportive office environment, they’re receptive to hearing this sort of feedback. Ideally they’re able to engage in some sort of action that makes the workplace more tolerable or comfortable for you.

It’s tougher when it’s a client — especially if you’re a freelancer. If you’re a one-woman or one-man show, it falls on you to find a solution. It’s difficult because I see many designers (myself included) be sheepish about having to stand up for ourselves. While it can be tough, it’s worth it though. One thing that’s helped me is having a network of colleagues who can take some time to do a practice run first. It helps to iron things out before having the real conversation. As a bonus, it can even give you a confidence boost.

At the end of the day. I like to think that most of the people we work with can act professional and receive whatever kind of feedback you need to give them in a positive manner or keep moving things forward. I expect that most people understand they need to act professional, but we’re far from 100% on that. But I’ve been more optimistic than ever over the past few months. We can all do our part to make things better, and that can start right now.

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