Dealing with a sudden but inevitable betrayal

Those of you who have watched Firefly will recognise this clip and I use it to illustrate the importance of listening to your instincts.

I’ve had a bad feeling for a while now about a particular client. Slow to return calls, reluctant to discuss NBN and movements forward in their network and systems and unreliable in commitments to future events. While context is critical and it was a very busy time for us both, a niggly little twitch started at the back of my mind about what might be going on. Unsure of myself and not knowing what was really happening, I tried to make contact – only for it to fail several times and then to hear second hand that another IT provider was looking at the systems and plans going forward.

My first thought was why? After all, I work hard for my clients, present them with reasonable planning and pricing for going forward, and I like to think I’m approachable and quick to resolve issues. This question has still not been answered.

Now I find this a bit hard to deal with. If I’d make a mistake or a series of serious mistakes, lied or given bad advice, then I can understand why this is happening. But I haven’t done this. The network is stable and responsive, I’ve been honest in my dealings with this client and yet I’m out in the cold.

Rather than rage about it, I have come to realise there isn’t much I can do about the situation, but I can choose (to an admittedly limited degree) how I feel about it. This choice has given me freedom to accept the situation and go from a place of betrayal and anger to one with more acceptance. I’ve had to ask people to stop trying to fight on my behalf with this client. I’m OK with letting it go now, and I want them to be too.

In fact, I came to the realisation that the relationship between a client and I has to have certain conditions. Working for someone has to be on terms that are mutually satisfactory for both parties and must go beyond “I do work, you pay”. So what are those terms for me? Open communication, trust, a mutual commitment and willingness to work together. None of those terms apply in this situation so I will let the inevitable continue and hope for a satisfactory result – which in this case involves the client simply indicating the business relationship is over, thanks very much, good luck. Or words to that effect. That’s all. A bit of courtesy in a world that seems to lack it greatly.

IT is a brutal business – we take and lose clients from one another and it can get unpleasant. I choose to not participate in that. This new IT group will get all the documentation and information they need to support the client. Not because I like the client (I kinda don’t right now), and not because I like the IT group taking over (they’ve said some nasty things), but because I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been very unhappy but now I feel a lot more peaceful about this so it’s a good time to move on. Since making this decision I’ve had more work pour in than I can poke a stick at. It’s like this client was a dam blocking a river of work while I worried about it all. Pish tosh to that! Now I’m moving into the thinking that I’ll send them a client, thanking them for their custom over the last few years and wishing them the best as they go forward. Much nicer than spray painting “FUCK YOU” on their car (which I admit did cross my mind. I’m no saint after all, and I do get cranky on occasion).

We deal with many other IT providers in the region, and I’d prefer them to think we are good to deal with than otherwise. It’s a tough business – do you blame the game or the players for their behaviour – talking down other providers, tearing networks apart and so on, always belittling the incumbent or recently removed provider? I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and it always left a sour taste behind. In the last 18 months we have picked up more new clients than ever before. I feel no need to discuss the capabilities of the previous provider – the client already has their opinions about it and it’s easier to move on without diving in to it. Taking a high road can be tricky and I do fall off occasionally when I have to fix something I view as especially stupid. It helps to keep in mind though that we’re all just doing our best, under the constraints of time and money for our clients. And it also helps to keep in mind that clients can change their mind at a whim about how they feel about a provider – be it IT, energy, phone or internet.

In this post I’ve started to talk a bit about some of the Stoic beliefs I’m working on. Stoicism talks about many things and one of those is control. We control very little about the world around us, so putting a huge amount of effort into trying to exert influence is a stressful waste of time. Stoicism talks a bit about indifference and preferred versus non-preferred. A Stoic is indifferent to the things he cannot change, and divides up that indifference into preferred things (like good health) and non-preferred things (like poor health) and acknowledges that we don’t have much control over either. Even the most fanatically healthy people still end up with cancer or disease.

Applying Stoicism to this situation I find I am indifferent about this client now. The preferred indifference would be that we have had none of this transpire, but it has. It’s easy to get caught up and riled up at the thought of losing a client for no good or well explained reason, and I certainly walked that path for a bit. Having read a little about Stoicism, I realised this is an excellent opportunity to apply some of the things I’ve learned to real life. I’ve done my best for them and they’ve gone on to different pastures. I can’t control this – but I can control how I feel about it. And that gives me peace in an otherwise stressful situation.

If you’re interested in stoicism, I can recommend “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William Irvine as a place to start, or even start reading some of Marcus Aurelius’s writings. I’ll write on this further as time permits as I think about it a lot. Experiences like this one seem to be what Stoicism was built for.

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