I love writing these types of posts because, although as artists we need to know how to create eye-catching imagery, as business owners, we have to know how to navigate those tricky situations that can sometimes make or break a business deal.
I recently had a consultation with a client. We knew some of the same people, as they were a referral from another client of mine. Being the friendly person that I am, it is imperative that I make new clients feel that they can talk to me casually (I hate stuffy meetings!). But when this particular client started a rather detailed, albeit negative conversation about another client of mine, I had to make a decision on how to handle it. In most towns, people run in circles. Once you meet someone, you’ve really been linked to a whole network of their friends and colleges, and you’ll be surprised at who ends up knowing whom. This is a great way to get your business name out there and into the minds of people who will refer you to future clients. It is also an easy way for people to talk about each other and for hearsay to spread among people who had nothing to do with the particular situation they’re discussing. What does this all have to do with you? Well, when I was sitting there listening to my future client talk in not so favorable terms about my present client I did what any smart person would do who wants to keep her business and the peace. I kept my mouth shut! Here are four things to do when confronted with business gossip… 1. Keep your mouth shut! Whatever is going on between client No. 1 and client No. 2 is none, I repeat, none of your business. You are not to take sides, judge or comment; you’ll only be shooting yourself in the foot! If you comment or offer an opinion, you not only risk offending the person you’re having the conversation with, but that person may have no problem relaying what you’ve said back to someone else, or even worse, your other client! You may think that it’s harmless conversation, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry in this case. 2. Change the subject You were meeting about graphics for this client’s custom mailing labels, not the latest soap opera. If pleasant conversation gets too far off track, jump back in with your next meeting point, or give a quick update on the decisions that you’ve agreed on so far. Once your client sees that you’re not interested in participating in the gossip, they will probably move on. 3. Ask them about something positive “Mary, I hear that your son is about to graduate?” “Joe, so your company got that business award, congratulations!” Anything positive about that person and their efforts that you know of, bring it up. It shifts the focus back on them, and everyone loves to talk about themselves. If you don’t really know anything about their accomplishments, ask a general question like “So what’s happening next with your business? Will you be doing anything that I can attend?” Showing support and being positive should diffuse any potentially negative talk. 4. Be upfront if needed If the client just won’t stop with the gossip, you can tactfully let them know that you’re not interested. “Mary, I appreciate you feeling that you can talk to me about [insert name here], but instead, I’d rather focus on you and your business. I want to be able to tell everyone about the wonderful job that I did for my newest client!” You don’t have to say “I don’t gossip,” because it could make the other person feel judged, and you may loose their business. But a tactful way to show them that you’re not interested is by acknowledging the conversation that is currently going on, but emphasizing the real reason for the meeting.