Three Reasons You Can’t Afford That High-Maintenance Client

How to Spot the Relationships that Will Only Drag You Down

Several years ago I had a client who was really “high maintenance.” This was someone with unreasonable expectations of me and my company.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see that on the front end. I was too focused on the supposed opportunity. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long to find out we had a problem.

As we closed out the first thirty days, I sat down with the client and a few of his staff members to review our progress. I had worked hard—more than the size of the account warranted—in an effort to exceed his expectations. I was sure I had hit it out of the park.

Not so much.

The client was very unhappy. Not only did he not praise me for what I had accomplished, he didn’t even acknowledge it. He focused exclusively on what I hadn’t done. Talk about the-glass-is-half-empty. I was stunned.

Not surprisingly, the client fired me a few months later. It was very painful. But as difficult as that experience was, it did lead to some positive outcomes, starting with me beginning to understand the need to clarify expectations from the get-go.

But here’s where it gets interesting. A few years later that same client came back to me and practically begged me to take him back. Stupid me. I did. (I’m not proud of it.)

I naively thought this second time would be different.

He’s changed, I told myself. I even assured my staff—and my wife—that he had changed. Besides, I reasoned, I have also changed. I’m a better manager this time around.

I was wrong on both counts.

The client had not changed. He was still the unreasonable, demanding tyrant he had always been. He could still turn on the charm when he needed to, but fundamentally, he was a narcissist. Nothing I could do—or could ever do—would change him. It was all about him.

But I hadn’t changed that much either. I am pretty good at creativity and execution, but I am not superhuman. I had not suddenly acquired dazzling new powers. In fact, in some relational experiences like this, I am admittedly a slow learner.

Regardless, here’s what I distilled from that second experience:

  1. Some people are just high-maintenance. They operate out of their “woundedness,” to borrow a phrase from John Eldredge. I am never going to please them. I will only deplete myself trying.

  2. High-maintenance clients are a distraction. They suck up more than their fair share of resources. In fact, if I let them, they will suck up everything I and my team have to offer. They are a bottomless pit.

  3. They keep me from serving others. I am better off to say “no” and spend the time searching for low-maintenance clients—or at least reasonable ones. It’s really not fair to my other clients or my teammates to keep these “Me Monsters” around.

I don’t mean to sound unkind, but there are just some people you are not called to serve. You can spend all your time caught up in the drama of their demands and accusations, or you can move on.

The sooner you cut the cord and fire them, the more productive—and happy—you’ll be. No matter how big the opportunity appears to be, it’s just not worth the maintenance involved.

Question: What is the worst high-maintenance relationship you have ever experienced?

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