Good client, bad client: How to know the difference

In my talks to speechwriters and other communicators who support leaders, I tell them there are basically two kinds of clients in any give c-suite: clients who value communication and clients who don’t. “You want to work only with clients who do,” I tell them, assuring them good clients are out there.

It’s an oversimplification of course. So I thought I’d flesh it out a little; maybe you can help. (Pardon my use of the universal “she”; it’s payback time.)

A good communication client thinks she got ahead in the world by making persuasive arguments.

A bad client thinks she got ahead by avoiding saying the stupid thing.

A good client doesn’t try to be perfect, but has faith that people will get the right impression from an amalgam of a million honest words and a thousand well-intended actions.

A bad client knows that her actions speak loudly, but doesn’t know what her actions say. Meanwhile, she worries that one false word in one speech will ruin her reputation forever.

A good client worries about the thrust of the message, lets others handle the details. “Tell me where you want me?”

A bad client deflates the thrust of the message by focusing on a thousand details. “You want me to do what?”

A good client is tough: “You can do better.”

A bad client is tough: “It still isn’t right.”

A good client is experienced enough to know a sharp communicator when he or she sees one.

A bad client assumes all communicators are weak-minded space cadets, and unfortunately manages to gather plenty of evidence for her point of view.

A good client knows communication is hard, and acknowledges it.

A bad client knows communication is hard, and pretends it’s easy.

A good client remembers what she wanted to know when she was a middle manager.

A bad client wonders, “If I were an employee, what would I want to hear?”

A good client assumes that her audience knows most of what she knows, and struggles to figure how she can use her unique vantage point to offer them a useful perspective.

A bad client assumes her audience doesn’t know half of what she knows, and struggles to figure out what she can say that they will be able to grasp.

A good client wants to share ideas.

A bad client wants to make impressions.

If you have a bad client, look for a good client—either inside the organization or outside. And if you have a good client, serve her well and help her win.

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