Working with difficult and controlling people can be hard in any situation, but having clients who fall into these categories can be especially hard to bear. Clients who expect too much or try to micro-manage your practice can make it hard for you to do your job. Successful advisors know how to deal with clients like this, and you are bound to land one of them sooner or later if you haven’t already.

Here are some tips to help you to discover why difficult clients are the way they are, which goes a long way in dealing with this less pleasant segment of your clientele. (For related reading, see: Common Mistakes Advisors Make with Clients.)

The Root of the Problem

The first key to dealing with a difficult client lies in knowing where they are coming from. Although this may seem rather obvious, it can take on a more specific note when it comes to client interactions. An elderly lady who owns shares of stock and calls you in a panic every time the price drops may be acting out of a greater fear than mere concern about her shrinking portfolio. She may have experienced or seen firsthand how a stock loss seriously impacted her or a loved one’s life during the Great Depression, and may be afraid that this could happen again in a way that she does not recognize.

Some of the real drivers of dysfunctional client behavior include:

  • Relinquishing of control. A client who is loath to sign documents that will empower another individual or group to make decisions or take actions on his or her behalf may ultimately be afraid of the implications that come with losing control of his or her life. Clients may try to compensate by being overly controlling now and dictating every move that you make with them. On some level, this may make them feel more secure for the time being. (For related reading, see: How to Deal with Dysfunctional Clients and 4 Ways to Avoid Clientzillas.)
  • Anxiety. This can be somewhat different than outright fear such as the one described above. While fears are usually driven by something fairly specific, anxiety may be much harder to pinpoint and there may not be a clear identifiable cause for it. Clients who routinely stand you up or refuse to go along with things that are obviously in their best interests may be suffering from this malady under the reasons that they give for their behavior.
  • Feeling inadequate. Clients who become successful may find themselves in over their heads at times, and need to catch their breath before making decisions or taking action. Those who become wealthy will be forced to change their mindsets in many ways, and the new territory that they have landed in can leave them feeling overwhelmed. When this happens, they may want to revert to previous plans or strategies with their money that made sense and felt safe before they got where they are now in an effort to regain their frame of reference. (For related reading, see: Advisors: Why You Should Avoid Trying to Do It All.)

The Bottom Line

If you have clients who fall into any of the categories describe above, you may have to play the role of therapist to some extent. The main objective will be to find out the real cause of their behavior so that you can help them to address it. This will be easier in some cases than others, but it is important for you to know your client’s real emotions when it comes to handling their money so that you can maintain a good working relationship. Firing clients as a last resort may also be necessary in order to protect yourself. (For related reading, see: Advisors: How to Rake It in This Year.)


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