Have you ever had a prospective client that made you uneasy? The job seems straightforward enough, but there’s a part of you that wonders if you should just say no.
Or maybe you take the job, do the job, and somewhere along the way, realize that your client is full-blown crazypants? What do you do then?
What is the professional etiquette for these types of people, and what should you do about them?
It’s apparently a controversial position, but I’m in favor of ghosting.
So, let’s start with a basic definition, and then roll into some general theories and guidelines.
First, what is ghosting?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (yes, it’s in the real dictionary even), ghosting is “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”
But what’s that look like in practice?
If we’re honest with ourselves, just because the word is new, it doesn’t mean the concept is. I was ghosted by several friend groups in elementary school. There was that boy I had a crush on in 9th grade. And the woman who I thought was my best friend who stopped calling me after I had a baby. The scars run deep, yo.
And on a professional level, every single one of us has been ghosted.
Did you get that job? No. Did they call? Also no.
So why is it that we’re unwilling to do this to other people?
Because it feels wrong? Fine.
Because we’ve been there, and we’d like to have some fucking empathy, Briar, and why are you such a bitch anyway? Which is totally fair, tbh.
I’ll tell you why, though. As I am often made aware, most people haven’t had to deal with as many raging narcissists as I have. (For the record, actual diagnosed ones. Narcissism is a word that we like to throw around a lot these days, and let’s face it, most people are incredibly selfish. But there’s a HUGE difference between being an asshole, and being a narcissist. (I’ll talk more about that when Ask Briar returns in April.)
And the problem is, healthy appropriate boundaries don’t always work with narcs.
And they frequently don’t work in a society that lives and breathes rape culture.
I say the words, “no is a complete sentence” so often I should get paid for it.
So many people consider the word no to be a personal challenge.
Or the beginning of a negotiation.
Or something to be ignored altogether, in favor of what WE want, dammit.
And I am telling you. A relationship should be an equal exchange. Not this 50/50 bullshit, either. You should get just as much out of it as you put in, and if you aren’t putting in 100%, what the fuck are you even doing in that relationship anyway?
Which brings us back to the client.
If you’re here, it’s because you value your relationships with your clients. The work you do matters to you, and not just because you’re getting paid.
Sometimes that means you care a little TOO much, to be honest. Too much about your reputation, too much about what other people will say about you, too much about what they think about you.
But none of those things are your problem.
Your only concern should be doing work that matters.
And that means setting clear limitations around that work.
That means deciding how you are willing to be treated, and what potential red flags might be, so that when they arise, you can decide how to act.
If someone hasn’t paid me money yet and they email me more than 3 times in 48 hours, they’ll never get the chance.
That might be a dreamy client for you, but I am not a quick-starter, and just the thought of dealing with that much intensity gives me anxiety.
I like regularly scheduled meetings. With clear end times. I will not answer my door if you just stop by.
And, with all this in mind, it’s easier for me to pick up on those subtle cues that indicate a nightmare client. (Not always. I’m not perfect. I’ve had some doozies.)
So why not just say no?
Sometimes that works. Sometimes an excuse works. Sometimes, you are suddenly all booked up, and you’ll let them know when you have time available in your calendar.
Sometimes, they’ll take no for an answer.
But it seems increasingly common these days to find clients or potential clients that won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes, even if you say no, you still gotta deal with these assholes lurking, trolling, or creating shenanigans.
As they say, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s gonna ask for a glass of milk.
Have you ever read a book review on Amazon where the author comes into the comments and argues with one star reviews? It’s…illuminating. The secondhand embarrassment is real.
Arguing with these kinds of people is exactly the same.
Especially if you are a business owner.
It doesn’t matter how much you want to justify your product, your services, even yourself. DOING it just makes you look bad.
Which means there’s only one appropriate solution. Ghosting.
And if this STILL feels uncomfortable to you, I’d like to offer you one more reframe. You aren’t ghosting them, you’re protecting your mental health.
And if you’re concerned with the mental health of someone who can’t even offer you basic decency MORE THAN YOUR OWN, then we have a whole other set of problems here.