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Diplomacy in Business

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Mike CohenDiplomacy in Business
by on Mar 25, 2009 at 3:17:56 pm

Know your clients. I repeat this mantra to myself all the time.
Everyone has a communication style of his or her own.
Sometimes, no matter how well one communicates, there will be a client who maintains the upper hand. You run the risk of escalating a situation if you are not careful.
Sometimes diplomacy is the best solution. Here is a fictionalized exchange (via e-mail):


Mike, I understand we have a shoot on this date. That is good news. I just checked with the location and they tell me it is only available for 1 hour. I wish you had found out this information ahead of time. You really need to take charge here, I can't be doing your job for you.

My response could go several ways:

Response 1

Client, I was just on the phone an hour ago requesting this same information. If you would give me a minute to write you an e-mail I would let you know the same information. Wasn't I the one who arranged the shoot, yadda, yadda, yadda

Such as response can easily blow things out of proportion. It can be a gut reaction to defend yourself, especially when a client essentially insults your abilities.

However, they are the client.

Better Response 2:

Understood. Talk to you soon.


Sometimes you need to give some face, let the Wookie win.

Sometimes saying nothing or very little is all that is required.


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John DavidsonRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 25, 2009 at 7:41:47 pm

My default reaction is to always accept blame, apologize, and add that to the list of quirks about that client. When clients are part of a large corporation or network, sometimes they drop the ball and they need somebody to blame. As the vendor, we often have to accept that role of fall guy. Lots of people don't like to hear that, but it happens. It keeps your contact at the network looking good - and they'll keep giving you work.

Fortunately for me, I like money more than being right.

Magic Feather Inc.

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Mike CohenRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 25, 2009 at 9:58:11 pm

The client is always right. Even when you know they are wrong, keep it to your self unless the entire project is in jeopardy, which it usually isn't.

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Nick GriffinRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 25, 2009 at 10:38:18 pm

[Mike Cohen] "The client is always right. Even when you know they are wrong"

Male Bovine Excrement. (IMHO)

Probably not with you Mike, but all too often, especially with those just starting out, this kind of attitude results in getting grind-ed. (ie.- Ron Lindeboom's Clients or Grinders article.)

That said, being confrontational will likely result in losing the client. The key is to maintain rapport and communication and coach the client to talk their way through how -- even though it's not THEIR mistake -- it's a circumstance that developed that both you and he/she need to solve. It can be helpful to approach this kind of situations with the attitude of "how can we make sure problems like this won't come up again?"

Always rolling over may solve short term situations, but it enables / creates bullies.

BTW, the other side of this is for those times when it is your mistake, you have to be the very first to bring it up and apologize. It's always better to be seen as being completely up front and completely communicating.

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Mike CohenRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 26, 2009 at 12:46:14 am

Great advice, as always Nick.

I was merely suggesting that when a customer identifies a problem, one is best to agree versus escalating matters. Or if it was your fault, as Nick said, absolutely admit it and find a solution.

Oops, there I go defending myself :)

Seriously, there are subtle ways to keep things running smoothly. Sometimes clients and/or vendors need to hear themselves talk. But as John suggested - they are paying you for a service.


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Fernando MolRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 26, 2009 at 2:56:54 am

I think it doesn't matter what the client say during the process. Yes, yes yes, I always answer. I know at the end if they're happy with the results (and many times that means other people telling them the work is great) they will call again. And pay.

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grinner hesterRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 27, 2009 at 6:05:35 am

Luckily, as a business man, I can hide out as an artist.
It'd be great to have a good cop with more gentle responses sometimes but it's also fun to actually aswer what is asked sometimes.

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Kai CheongRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 29, 2009 at 2:18:48 pm

Haha, yes, had my share of such 'encounters', too!

Yup, sometimes you just need to learn to laugh it off - the encounter that is, not shrug your responsibilities.

OK, I admit there are times the laughing off comes after some serious eyebrow-raising, 'is s/he for real?' and trying to mentally run through and justify whether I've indeed committed any lapses.

But like your response, the best way is to keep moving the project forward. When you're in production, you know variables change ALL the time and last-minute changes are no surprise by now. If you run into a flighty client or someone who doesn't feel they should be responsible for helping you help them... then I guess the best option is to focus on making a kick-ass video - that would boost your own reel ;]

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Fernando MolRe: Diplomacy in Business
by on Mar 29, 2009 at 5:51:48 pm

I read this story about an hospital. In the emergency department the people never complies about their work. You know, they way their bosses are or how ugly is the decoration in the toilet room. They were so focused on the job (saving lifes) that simply there was no time to do so.

Sometimes, when I'm in a difficult situation I use this mental trick "Ok, whatever, but what I'm going to do to save this project?".

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