How To Break Bad News To A Client

ID-100147922Whether you are a business advisor, employer or even a mentor to anyone, it’s very likely that you may have found yourself dealing with an intelligent person that is blind to the poor decisions they are making. I’m not talking about a slight difference of opinion or perspective, I’m talking about when someone is clearly making a very bad decision but they just can’t see it.

The fact is that sometimes our emotions can completely cloud our better judgment. That is a big problem when it happens in business.

If you’ve ever watched CBC’s Dragon’s Den before, you may have seen some people who come in after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars of their life savings into an idea that could simply never work. It’s never a comfortable situation to find yourself in but it can get to the point where you may feel a moral obligation to say something to them.

Then what do you do?

Be The Diplomat

Being in-your-face about a bad decision is really just kicking someone while they’re down and I don’t think that is the right way to handle things. As an advisor, my job is to take the rose-coloured glasses off their face and smash them in front of them. When I say smash them in front of them, that means I try and emphasize the potential negative about their idea or general approach to the project at hand.

I have to take off the rose-coloured glasses, smash them and see if they get it.

Take A Step Back

If they come back and say they still want to move forward with it, I will agree to move forward with it, as long as it isn’t that bad of a project that it is truly doomed for failure. If it truly is that bad of an idea that they can’t see it, as an advisor, I almost have to step out of the picture if I fundamentally disagree with the project’s ability to get off the ground.

If you don’t believe in your client and you don’t believe in what they’re doing, how can you advise them? I can’t change somebody’s opinion on whether or not to move forward on a project.

Let Them Make Their Own Decisions

The part of the Dragon’s Den show that I really dislike is when the investors don’t like an idea and they really nail the person in a negative way. They will say things like, “I forbid you to move forward with this project,” and I just don’t think that is right.

I think that people have to have their own thing. Are they going to go bankrupt? Maybe but that’s their choice. You can only show them the door, they have to open it and walk through.

Sometimes You Have To Walk Away

As an advisor, if a client doesn’t want to take your logical advice, the best thing to do is to tell them to find another advisor. You have to believe in your client’s projects otherwise you must step away from it for the sake of your credibility and reputation.

As an entrepreneur, if you’re working with an advisor that disagrees with everything you’re doing in the project, then you should consider finding an advisor that does believe in your project. Now, you shouldn’t find one that just tells you they believe in it and will sugarcoat everything for you. Go find an advisor that is going to support you and help you.

You Can’t Advise What You Don’t Believe

As an advisor, if you take someone’s money to advise them on a project you don’t believe in, that is unethical.

I recently had a fellow come in and describe to me a product he was considering turning into a business. I always hope they are coming to me with an idea still at the beginning stages so things don’t get awkward when I ask if they are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Other times the issue is that the product idea is not unique and already being done in the market place, exactly as described.

That happens.

As someone that has been in the business for many years, it’s your job to explain to them why you think what they’re doing is a waste of time and energy. That’s really all you can do but until you make your case, your comment isn’t much help on it’s own. If they truly believe they’ve got the best thing since sliced bread and you don’t believe it, you owe it to your client to tell them the truth: you don’t believe in the idea or you don’t believe in the product.  It’s not you, it’s the product or the idea that I don’t believe in and you should have somebody else deal with it.  

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