Workplace Abuse and Entrepreneurship: Handling a Difficult Situation

During our last blog, we tackled the tough subject matter of workplace abuse in professional relationships. We addressed how to spot the red flags that might indicate you’ve got an unhealthy connection with a working partner or client in the world of entrepreneurship.

Workplace abuse is a common term and a prevalent topic in the business world. As an entrepreneur, what do you do when you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship with a partner or client? Cutting ties is easier said than done when you need the work to keep food on the table, are legally bound in a contract, or have your reputation on the line.

Fortunately, you can learn from my lessons and evade such a relationship in the first place with these strategies:

Know Your Boundaries in Entrepreneurship

First thing’s first: know your boundaries. What do I mean by that? Simple. Boundaries are those invisible barriers that we place around ourselves to keep us safe and protected from outside forces that mean to harm us. They are important barriers to keep up because oftentimes when we let one boundary come down, others soon follow. This soon results in having no boundaries at all, leaving a person exposed and vulnerable.

Some boundaries are easy to keep in place: for example, most people will not let someone come up and hit them – that’s where they draw the line. However, some boundaries are much more difficult to keep in place. Sometimes it can be difficult to even know when you have let one down. For example, constantly excusing someone who is persistently late for scheduled meetings. Knowing what boundaries are important to you and where they lie will protect your business, your self-worth, and even your reputation.

Walking the Talk

Punctuality is a very important thing to me. I believe that if you are consistently late, you are disrespecting the time someone has dedicated to you. In entrepreneurship, I think this is even truer. Further building upon this personal boundary is the fact that with two small kids to look after, time is a very valuable commodity to me.

As such, one strong personal boundary that I adhere to is an expectation that people be respectful of my time. In my business, I have a rule for all clients that if they miss a scheduled meeting without a valid reason or prior notice, I give one free pass but can bill them for one hour of my time. I have it written in my contracts and ensure that clients are aware of this stipulation throughout our relationship. This ensures they are aware of our meetings and conscious of the time we spend together. I, in turn, offer the same respect and show up to meetings on time and ready. 

Watch Out for Buck-Passers in Entrepreneurship

This is a tricky one. By nature, I am an extremely accountable person. I take ownership of things I am charged with and don’t take those responsibilities lightly. However, I am also aware of what is reasonably within my sphere of control and what it is not. If it is in my control, you can bet that my type-A personality will be taking charge of that situation tout suite.

Needless to say, there are other people out there who don’t share this same sense of responsibility in entrepreneurship. They think everything is always someone else’s fault and are quick to pass the buck when things go sideways. These are the types you need to watch for.

Stories are the Best in Entrepreneurship

Once upon a time, we started working with a client who provided us with stats to post. After getting the stat content approved, we posted it on their social channels. The client immediately reached out to us, asking where we had gotten that content from because it was all wrong and it got them in hot water with some of their funders. Wanting to make things right, I quickly followed up by checking the approved content, the calendar, and the source document to see where we had messed up – only to find that we hadn’t done anything wrong. In truth, the client had provided us with the stats.

I shared my findings with the client. I pointing out that the source document, which we received from her team, and the posted content were the same. I’d assumed the whole thing would be chalked up to an “oops” and that we’d move on. However, it didn’t stop there. The client kept the finger firmly pointed our way. She said we should have checked with their legal team before posting. Firstly, we didn’t know about their legal team and secondly, this would have been beyond the agreed-upon approval process.

I will reiterate here – entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.

I let the situation go – but not before I realized that this client would never take responsibility for any hiccups or road bumps that might come up in the relationship. Whatever it was, it would always be someone else’s fault. I spent countless hours justifying our actions, crafting diplomatic emails, and searching for ways to improve our process. These efforts are great for my business etiquette but are utterly useless on people who simply pass the buck of responsibility.

No Amount of Money is Worth Your Sanity – Or Your Self-Worth

As entrepreneurs, we sometimes get starry-eyed when a big client walks in the door. Let’s be honest. We love opportunities that grow our businesses. Sometimes, we take work for no other reason than to keep ourselves afloat.

It’s important to avoid the temptation to put on blinders and ignore those red flags we’ve talked about to give everything to make that big, new, shiny client happy or to close the deal. Whenever you’re doing business, always maintain a level of self-aware introspection. Be sure that you are always being true to yourself, your business values and your team.  Even if you are working with your humblest client or focused on an amazing opportunity, keep your eyes open. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment that we can end up making those closest to us unhappy – including ourselves.

These situations aren’t always apparent right off the bat. Sometimes it takes being neck-deep in that sort of a situation to realize you’ve gotten yourself into trouble. Remember, though, that no matter how frustrating, difficult, or stressful things might be, THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY OUT. If you find yourself feeling like you’re stuck in a tailspin you can’t pull out of, take a moment to step back. Reflect on why you started your business in the first place and hold on to that. Before long, these feelings will help guide you back to the true reason you opened your doors all that time ago.

Although we all love longterm client relationships and contracts, we also need a way to protect ourselves when things go south midway through a contract. Ensure your contracts have an early termination exit clause. It is your parachute string that you can pull mid-contract to get out of toxic relationships.

Know When to Walk Away

Before going further, I wanted to take a moment to reiterate an important point I made above. No amount of money is worth your sanity or self-worth. Once you’ve truly gotten this fact internalized, you’ll realize that it really is okay to walk away. Sometimes, on our journey in entrepreneurship, we get entangled in situations that can drag us down if we keep engaging with them. Conversely, these very same situations can serve to lift us up because we decided to take the high road.

If you find yourself in a business relationship or situation that seems to always bring you back to this point, I urge you to take a pause. Spend a moment digging deep and assess if engaging will have a positive outcome or will waste your time.

If you determine that you’re doing the latter, I encourage you to execute your escape plan. Do everything possible to keep your emotions in check in your interactions and stick to the high road. Find a diplomatic way to end the relationship as soon as possible without causing waves – terminate the contract if possible, bring in additional help to finish the project sooner, and refund the deposit if necessary.

If any client has a problem with you professionally withdrawing your services in this manner, then that is honestly their problem to deal with, not yours. You don’t want to just cut and run (that’s no way to build that sterling reputation you’re striving for!). However, if you can handle your client breakups with class and decorum, you’ll be setting yourself up for future success, even though this particular opportunity might not have panned out.

More to Come

Abuse in the workplace is a dense topic, fraught with plenty of details, considerations, and delicate social situations. Dealing with it in the world of entrepreneurship makes it even more tricky. We’ve made some good headway tackling these issues, but there’s still work to do. Join us for our next article when we’ll be wrapping up our blog series on navigating toxic professional relationships.

In the meantime, if you feel like our values work well together, feel free to reach out for a coffee. Until next time!

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