I recently shared an experience with my brilliant coach and mentor, Tiffany Han, about a client who had ended a contract with only one days’ notice. I accommodated the negligible notice without push back, stating that I was just “trying to be nice about it…”. That’s when she dished out her tough love and stated what I needed to hear.
Truth is, I knew this to be true. In fact, over the course of the few weeks leading to this conversation, I had dealt with some similarly problematic situations. One client didn’t deem me worthy enough to pay me for my work. At least that’s how it felt when she told me that. And, as if the late payment dilemma was not enough to make business challenging, the debate of being nice vs being a pushover crashed in with bigger problems.
After she’d paid her deposit prior to starting and after I’d completed the agreed upon contract hours, she didn’t want to pay me the balance of the contract because she didn’t feel that the work constituted a decent return on investment. It was leadership- and consulting-based work and I had already worked for her and her team exactly as outlined in our contract.
She decided after the work was completed that instead of paying me the rest of the invoice (a balance of $575), she was only going to pay $200 provided that I transfer ownership of some of the Word docs I had shared with them. When I was crafting my reply to her, I was very firm.
I did ten hours of work for you, that’s what the contract stated and she’d agreed to. I actually reread everything that I was contracted to do, and not only did I do that, but I also spent extra time.
In my welcome packet, I had outlined the different platforms we were going to be using and outlined exactly how I was going to be working. In fact, there was an additional 3.5 hours of consultative work that I had worked and did not charge for. I realized that the “communication gap” she was claiming we had was not on my side of the fence but on hers, and I started to get a little angry.
The fact that she came to me and said that she was only going to pay me $200 of the $575, made me feel very frustrated. I started to stop feeling like a pushover and started to feel a little bold. I think that’s when the shift happened within me – when she said that she would pay $200… who was she to determine the worth or my work?
It felt as though she was setting my value, not to mention that she wasn’t even holding to our contract or the fact that I’d put in 13.5 hours and was only charging her for ten.
We did a lot of back and forth. There were several emails where I tried to put the line in the sand; I wanted to hold her accountable a little bit for what was happening. I told her that if she didn’t deem my time and expertise worthy of full payment, that I would not pursue it further.
However, I would expect her to at least make the partial payment and if she didn’t by a certain date, then I would go after her for the rest of it. She paid it; I wrote off the rest. In that moment, I felt like was I being a pushover by not holding her accountable for the rest of the contract, but I still did way better than other times.
And this is just one of many examples… for example when I’m only given one day’s notice (when it clearly states in my contract that 30 days’ notice is required to end a retainership); when people ghost me and I never hear from them again, and despite late payment penality emails, never push the issue further with legal action… Why?
Well, let’s face it – who wants to hire a lawyer to go get the money that you’ll just use to pay that lawyer to have gotten that money? You know what I mean? The lawyer fee is going to cost you possibly more than the invoice due! The reality is that online work is making it easier and easier to do these types of things.
You would never walk into a store and tell the clerk: “I don’t think that this shirt is worth the price so I’m only going to pay a fraction of what it says here because that’s all I think it’s worth.“ That’s not how commerce works. That’s not how business works.
Haggling, yes, is part of the sales process when you are settling terms. But, once those terms are set, it is out of respect and obligation that you should follow through. The irony with this particular client was that she was very, very bad at boundaries. She would just pop up and call anytime. She would expect me to drop everything; she was kind of driving me a little crazy, and the reality is that she was not a good fit from the word go.
But at the very, very beginning, even though those red flags kept popping up that this might not be a good fit, I went in because I thought she’d had a rough go of it. She explained to me how over the course of two years, she had been trying to get a product out the door and had been burned a few times by developers and consultants.
Now usually when I hear someone’s having issues with other people, I start to wonder if maybe it’s them and not those other people (it can’t be everybody she comes into contact with, can it?). But there are a lot of times when people get burned by developers and consultants, so I wanted to give her a break. I wanted to show her that not all experiences are bad. I wanted to allow her to have a positive experience working with someone. In the end, though, it ended up being me that got burned. Ignoring the red flags, being too accommodating and a pushover cost me money, time, energy, effort and really, really played games with my mind.
She had me in tears one day before our contract ended because she was so difficult to understand.
We ended up having it out a bit on a phone call where I was trying so desperately to break through and get her to realize what was happening. Again, the red flags at the beginning showed me this would happen – why didn’t I heed them?
I don’t know why I ignore these things except to say that in the moment I feel for people, and because I feel for people, I want to help. It is a knee-jerk reaction that has put me into this type of situation many times.
I need to stop being a pushover, a doormat, someone who just rolls over if someone says boo. It is like announcing that I am not confident about myself, that I don’t personally hold myself accountable or hold a standard and value for myself. And all that does is tell the person I’m dealing with that they can treat me however they want.
I have a hard time with this. My Myers Briggs type is INFJ-T (The Advocate) and if you are into the Fascination Test by Sally Hogshead, I’m the Intrigue. Passion, the language of relationships, is my primary language (with Mystique, the language of listening, my secondary language).
What does this combination create? A person who feels ALL the feels, and while that can be a wonderful attribute for conveying perceptive insights, it can also prove to be perceived as naïve.
I will feel for you and I listen to you and then I analyze and want to help. I jump into helper mode easily. I’ll catch myself the minute someone says they’re having a struggle with something, and my mind immediately radars and zeroes in thinking of ways to help.
The truth is, I don’t want to lose that part of myself. I don’t want to change who I am and become a callous, hard, cold person who is all business and never personal because at the end of the day, my business is personal to me. And I don’t want to take feeling out of business, but I do understand that it has its place and I have to realign where that place is.
If all else fails, I have to remember what the flight attendants say on the plane: “When the plane’s going down, you have to put on your air mask first because you won’t be in any position to help anybody else unless you do.”
So, that’s what I have to do when it comes to being Nice Vs Pushover. When the tough conversations come, when the problematic situations arise, when the business has been turned on its head or there’s been a circumstance with a collaborator that has me up in arms or upside down, I have to remember that in those moments it’s not being selfish to put my air mask on first. It’s responsible.
Do you struggle to stick to your guns and hold yourself responsible to yourself and your business? Do you ever put your clients’ needs ahead of your own? Share your experiences in the comments section below!
Lysa is a digital producer who helps service-based entrepreneurs fulfill their business vision through creative ideation, technical solutions, and relationship marketing. With 19 years of diverse experience in broadcast and digital media, she provides a wide range of opportunities to work with a variety of clients and teams, both virtually and in-person.