Here’s a stereotype for you: the arrogant businessperson. You know exactly who I’m talking about. These stereotypes treat their employees poorly, bully their clients and their partners into deals that benefit them alone, and at the end of the day, they go home to swim in piles of money (yes, that was a DuckTales reference, good catch).
Unfortunately, these stereotypes have a basis in reality. Steve Jobs was notorious for humiliating his employees and parking his Mercedes in handicap spots. Mark Zuckerberg drove his friend and co-founder out of Facebook. Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber has been in the news recently for threatening reporters and their families in pursuit of favorable press.
These popular stories of successful assholes have led to a nasty rumor:
You have to be a jerk to succeed.
I am a recovering business-jerk-aholic, and my business partner (Ben) is the kindest lumberjack you’ll ever meet. We have made it a mission to re-civilize the service industry, in a “good-cop / bad-cop” kind of way. You could say we’re bringing sexy back – if you think being nice is sexy.
Along the way we’ve learned a few things about balancing good business practice with good person practice. Here are our top four lessons:
Assholes finish last.
The days when arrogance and hubris sustained companies are over. Companies need repeat business to succeed, and no one wants to work with an asshole twice. People expect more out of their business dealings these days – they want authentic experiences with kind human beings. Don’t be embarrassed to whip out your inner pleasant-self. Pick up the check. Send a thank-you card. Your clients will appreciate the effort and your business will grow.
Boundaries are important.
Running a business and dating are not entirely dissimilar. Like any good relationship, it’s important to know yourself, and define your own needs before you negotiate with a potential client. Then, meet your clients with the idea that you are interviewing them. Saying no to a client who doesn’t fit your needs and desires not only saves you the drudgery of bad work, but can help to avoid the inevitable conflict that can come out of bad working relationships. Aim to achieve a balance of respecting yourself as well as the clients you’re working with.
The customer is not always right.
What happens when we get a difficult client? Sometimes a client will forget that they are hiring you for your expertise and they will attempt to steamroll you. My advice? Get angry. No, really. Holding it in will just shorten your lifespan. Find a way to vent your anger. Punch a pillow, listen to 90’s rock, or find someone you trust who will listen to your whining. Not only is this great therapy, it’ll help you move past the things that don’t really matter and pinpoint those issues that do. That way, you can return to your client with a confident, honest response: “I really appreciate your feedback. Let me explain the reasoning behind why I made that particular decision so we are on the same page.” Many clients will appreciate your confident honesty. The ones who don’t appreciate it probably aren’t listening to you anyways. That’s okay – Move forward and avoid those clients like the plague next time you see them.
Empathy is key for good creative work.
So much of what we do, as creatives, is based on good communication. To do good work, we must understand our clients and their customers well. It means we have to listen, and attentive listening always makes conflict easier. Since most conflict can be boiled down to a matter of miscommunication, as a creative you’re perfectly suited to resolve any conflicts that arise. Stay confident in your ability to manage that conflict, listen well and put yourself in your clients shoes every time you meet. If conflict does occur, try to pinpoint the specific areas where you are misaligned. Your client wants to be understood and will appreciate the effort to understand them better.
You can do it. We believe in you. If all else fails, go for a stiff drink.