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Dealing with Client Hostility

The other side of practice management that is rarely discussed.

David J. Drucker, 03/16/2006

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In last month's article, "Lost Client Obsessions," we discussed an aspect of practice management that is so common, yet so often ignored.

Trade press articles tell you how to get clients, how to serve their technical planning needs, how to plan their lives as well as their finances, and even how to fire them when things don't work out. But where do we read about how to resolve those gray-area "collisions" we all have at times?

In "Lost Client Obsessions," we saw a mother (the client) deferring to the judgment of her son rather than her planner of several years when the going got tough and the son pushed his point. The advisor found herself in the crossfire and lost a good client after agonizing endlessly about how best to handle the conflict. If you haven't found yourself in a similarly emotional situation with a client, then you're obviously new to this business.

Another not uncommon occurrence in dealing with clients is managing their occasional hostility. It usually happens with couples, especially if one spouse participates reluctantly in the planning process. The reasons for his (or her) reluctance are also the reasons for his anger, as one planner, who wishes to remain anonymous, discovered when he starting dealing with Mr. and Mrs. Wellington in 2003.

"I knew the wife through some volunteer work I'd done, but had only met the husband briefly before they became clients," the planner wrote in a professional association's discussion forum back in 2003. "We are now just completing the data-gathering phase, and I've noticed the husband has a certain hostility towards me. If I remind him of a document that he promised to send me but has not, he says things like, 'Didn't I send that to you already' or 'I had everything at the office yesterday but you didn't ask for it then.' The wife has taken a 'hands-off' approach with everything although she was the one who initiated the engagement."

The planner decided he had three options: He could continue to work with them and just ignore the hostility; he could confront them in his next meeting and ask if they were unhappy with the process to date; or he could speak with the husband just on the phone or in person. He was leaning toward the last solution.

Seeking help, the planner welcomed suggestions from the forum's members. The answers he received--some of which supported his own inclinations, others of which would take him in new directions--defined the many ways we can all deal with client hostility.

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