However, your clients’ stress is not necessarily the same as yours, so try not to confuse the two, says Derbyshire-based HR expert Sarah Loates, in her second article for Business Matters on work-related stress. This time, she talks about ways of avoiding taking on other people’s worries.
One interesting argument that is often levelled against open-plan offices is the spread of stress. When one person’s stress levels start to go up, that feeling of barely controlled panic can travel fast across the desks until suddenly everyone feels as though they’d quite like to run screaming for the door. Have smaller offices with doors, and the stress is easier to contain.
But my job here is not to extol the virtues of one type of office design over another, but to talk about how to avoid taking on others’ stress – specifically, that of your clients. Many of us who work in roles where we act as consultants or advisors, will be familiar with this – the problems of our clients become ours, and we become unnecessarily stressed as a result. This kind of stress is much harder to deal with because there are some aspects of our clients’ problems which aren’t under our control.
Decisions versus options
Ask any consultant and they will tell you it’s very easy to worry about the possibility of making a wrong decision for a client. Whether it’s financial advice or my own field, HR, you can tie yourself up in mental knots worrying about the possible consequences for both you and your client if they follow a course of action you have prescribed, and it doesn’t work out as planned. Will this impact your client relationship? Will something unpleasant happen as a result? How will that make you feel?
My advice is this: instead of worrying that you will make a poor decision for your client, don’t make that your responsibility. Do what many doctors do: instead of telling your client what to do, outline a range of options and the potential consequences of each. When you visit your GP these days and you are told you have a problem that could be improved by having an operation, you will generally be given a choice as to the pros and cons of surgery, the possible alternative treatment options, and the risks of each one. That way it is your decision. Treat your clients the same way – give them the viable options and then let them choose. It’s their money and their business after all, not yours. They understand their business objectives better than you do so don’t take on all that stress unnecessarily – you’ll find it’s a big weight off your mind to do things this way and by presenting clients with a range of options you’ll probably be doing a better job for them too.
Problems versus solutions
Having said that, sometimes when presenting clients with options, they will choose one that brings with it some tricky consequences. Sometimes they may insist you implement a particular solution which is overly complex, hopelessly unrealistic, or even completely impossible and, worst case scenario, illegal – but for the record we would not entertain this as an option. This presents you, in turn, with several options. You can worry and worry about how to make the solution happen for them, and warn them (again) about how you feel it may impact heavily on their business.
Instead of doing that, my advice would always be to take a step back and identify what the actual business problem is they are trying to address. Let’s say, for example, that you are a designer and they are trying to produce written materials for a marketing campaign but you know that the look they are trying to achieve will be so costly it will not in the end achieve the bottom-line results they want. Ask yourself, and them, which customers they are trying to reach – and try and find a different solution that still gets the results they want but at a cheaper price.
Part of the stress of dealing with clients is that you worry you will end up getting the blame for a strategy going wrong, when you warned them of the consequences in the first place. So, when faced with the situation – as we all are sometimes – that a client wants to go down a road that you would not advise, try to think if you can find a much simpler and more appropriate way of achieving the same end.