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What to Do When Your Job is on the Line

I have a friend whose boss told her recently she's one the edge of losing her job. She's not in the broadcast field. The reason she may lose her job is very much related to getting along with a client, a very important client. And she's baffled.

"I work so hard. I do so much," she said. "I don't know why this client doesn't like me."

The long and the short of it is that this client is critical to her company, and therefore critical to her longevity with the company. She needs to make it work with this client, or she's gone.

Enough about her for now; by the time you read this she may be toast in her job. Let's talk about you.

When an ultimatum like that is handed to you, unless you're independently wealthy or have that next step on the job ladder already lined up, then you have to get serious about keeping your job.

Depending on the situation, keeping your job may be an impossible task, and maybe you should spend at least some of your time trying to look for a new one. But your big job right now is keeping your job.

Number one, don't go into the boss's office telling him about how valuable you are in all those areas that don't concern that particular client. He knows that. That's why you still have your job.

Whether you accept it as true or not, chances are pretty good that your boss is going out on a limb to give you a second chance. The news of your difficulty with the client likely didn't come directly to him from the client; it likely came from someone else in the station, which means that your boss isn't the only one who knows what's happened.

Which leads to number two--don't go into the boss's office savaging that client who has trashed you. Other than maybe making you feel better, all trashing the client is likely to do is to convince your boss you're never going to be able to fix things. You're going to have to show respect to the client now, and respect personally to the client later.

Number three--you're going to need a plan, a strategy for working with the client. Have that strategy well thought out before going back to talk with your boss. If you made a mistake with the client, you need to apologize. That's a given.

But beyond that, you're going to have to sell yourself to the client. So do what a salesman would do. What does the client need? How can you fulfill that need?

Going back to my friend for a moment, she called a colleague who also works with that client. She asked her colleague if she'd ever had the same kind of problems? Yes she had. How did she handle him? What did that client need?

While it's probably not the problem you might have, it turned out her client liked to have a chance to get on stage and address large groups within his company. She had minimized attendance at such an event (for budget reasons), and that set him off. Her plan was to arrange more large gatherings and invite him to speak in front of them.

So she went to her boss with a solid strategy. She walked on eggshells to present the plan while not denigrating the client. She practiced "silver tonguing" her pitch to me several times before going to her boss. My advice each time was to show more respect to the client. The pitch went well, although as this was being writing, she was waiting for the first event to happen.

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. How well these gatherings will work, along with how gracious she can be around that client will determine whether she keeps her job.

Sometime the client isn't going to let you off the hook easily. He knows you're treading water, and it's easy to hit you while you're struggling. "Did your boss put you up to this?" he may ask when you approach him the first time.

You have to steer this back to the subject of fulfilling his needs respectfully. "My boss and I discussed this, yes, and I want to learn more about how I can help you," or something like that.

Don't get baited into an angry response. You've acknowledged that you and your boss have spoken about this. Steer it back to how you can help the client. No matter how frustrated you get, don't lose it here. Ask how you can help.

When you get an answer you can act on, act on it. Communicate with the client along with way. Is what you're doing for him getting the results he wants? How could it work better? Is there anything else you can do?

OK, you've saved your job. There's one more thing you can do. Learn from this. How did you get into the scrape in the first place? Did you forget to call him back? Did he ask for something you thought was trivial and blew off? Learn from it and pay close attention to the other clients as well, because you never want to go through this again.