Dating our clients

Client relationships have a lot in common with romantic relationships. This is well documented elsewhere.

Let’s start with the obvious parallels:

  • Flirting and courting = the sales process and trying to win the bid
  • Facebook official = signing the contract
  • The honeymoon phase = the first couple sprints when everything is still exciting and new
  • The first fight = the first disagreement (often about scope)
  • The messy breakup = using the termination clause in the contract
  • The amicable breakup = a successful completion of the project
  • The messy divorce = someone gets sued
  • The long term relationship = a trusting partnership with no end date (this is the holy grail for many people, but not all)

But romantic relationships are about love! Client relationships are about money! That is an important difference!” That’s why I didn’t say that client relationships are exactly like romantic ones. But to be fair, aren’t both love and money about mutual benefit?

I could keep going and start talking about where kids and joint mortgages fit in, but it all gets very boring.

It’s more interesting when we apply the power dynamics of romantic relationships. Esther Perel, a well known psychotherapist and speaker, was on the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years back. She said something that stuck with me enough to motivate me to spend 15 minutes finding the exact quote:

In every couple you will often find one person who is more in touch with the fear of losing the other, and one person who is more in touch with the fear of losing themselves.

One person more in touch with the fear of abandonment, and one person more in touch with the fear of suffocation.

Esther Perel (transcript here)

Are client relationships like that? I think so. It could go either way:

  • The client is afraid that the contractor whom they rely on will move onto a higher paying or more interesting client (fear of abandonment)
  • The contractor is afraid that continuing to work with their client will prevent them from growing and learning new things (fear of suffocation)

Or, going the other way:

  • The client is afraid that the contractor’s low quality work or outdated solutions will hold them back (fear of suffocation)
  • The contractor is afraid that the client will fire them and hire someone selling shiny new unproven technology (fear of abandonment)

Does any of that sound familiar? It does to me.

Who holds the most power in those situations? Obviously we’d prefer that whatever side we’re on has the power. But ideally both sides would hold equal power, so neither side needs to act out of fear.

It sounds like a chicken/egg problem: do we equalize power by getting rid of fear, or do we get rid of fear by equalizing power? But that’s a false dichotomy. Those are both symptoms of the larger issue: we aren’t communicating. Fix the communication and we fix both symptoms of it.

In a romantic relationship, we’d want to talk about this stuff, right? Get it out in the open and have a mature, honest conversation. Maybe even see a relationship counselor.

So why not do that with our client? It goes back to my post “Hide a problem from your client and now you’ve got 2 problems“. If we’re feeling a fear of suffocation or abandonment, or we suspect that they are, why wouldn’t we bring it up and talk through it with them?

What do you think? Tweet me!

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