What if WikiLeaks leaked about you?

I read a Forbes article about WikiLeaks last week while waiting for a delayed flight. The release of diplomatic cables has caused much embarrassment, both because of unpalatable (though apparently legal) directives and thanks to candid assessments of diplomats and leaders in other countries.

WikiLeaks is transforming the era of transparency in operations to one of forced transparency, and that got me thinking. Back when I was practicing law, I often heard friends and colleagues complaining about their clients.  “Business would be great if it weren’t for the clients!”

Some complaints were good-natured; others were real complaints about overly demanding, rude, difficult clients. I hear similar complaints at times from my clients now.

We’ve all heard the anecdotes about service providers who’ve complained about their clients on Facebook, and that’s just stupid. That’s a self-inflicted wound.  I honestly find it a little tough to feel bad for someone who doesn’t know not to whine about clients (or just about anyone else, really) on the Internet.  But you don’t do that… Right?

But imagine if someone intercepted a handwritten note attached to a file, “Mr. Z is being obnoxious about the bill again — pls call him.” (Insert your own complaint here.)  And I started thinking (as you should), what if Wiki leaked that?  The chances are remote at best, that private communications within a small organization would ever be viewed outside that organization… But what if it happened?

Here’s the real issue:  what we say tends to take on a certain power and truth in our thoughts and is expressed in our actions. I don’t mean that in some touchy-feely, weird way.  Think about this:  if you get all incensed thinking about how Client X is always calling to ask questions you’ve already answered and then Client X calls you again, aren’t you more likely to be frustrated with that call?

Professionals don’t allow that frustration to show, but when words, thoughts, and actions are all aligned, a belief is solidified. And when a belief exists, we tend to selectively see evidence that supports that belief.  We don’t intend to, necessarily, but we tend to see what we expect to see.  That, in turn, can create a self-perpetuating cycle of dissatisfaction.

Consider how you usually think and talk about your clients. Do you enjoy the people who engage you?  If not, ask yourself why.

  • Perhaps you’ve elected to ignore warning signs that a potential client will be difficult. The truth is, difficult clients do exist, and they can lead to headaches and even ethical or legal complaints against you.  Learn the signs of a difficult client so you can make a conscious decision about whether you want to work with a particular person, and consider that a difficult client can cost far more than the income he or she may bring.
  • Perhaps you’re working harder than you’d like or with fewer resources than you’d like, and stress is showing up as frustration with clients. If this is the case, figure it out and fix the problem.  Now.  You’ll be happier, your clients will likely be happier, and you’ll probably do better.
  • Perhaps you’ve simply fallen into a habit. It’s sometimes easy to be negative.  If you notice that you’ve dropped into a destructive view of your clients or your practice, call a time-out and focus on why you do what you do.  Especially in a period of prolonged stress (as we’ve experienced in this long recession), you may need to reconnect with your purpose more frequently.

Check your words and thoughts about your clients. There’s no doubt that clients can be frustrating, simply because human beings can be frustrating.  But your success, and your clients’ success in your work together, depends on your ability to address your frustration when it’s well-placed and to set it aside when it isn’t well-placed.

So, the next time you catch yourself grousing about a client, ask yourself:  What if WikiLeaks leaked that?

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