When to Fire a Toxic Client

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

Do any of you remember this song? I bet you do if you exceed a certain age threshold. It is an iconic question that is interwoven in the fabric of intimate human relationships.

It is also a question that you may recognize accompanies the fabric of entrepreneur/client relationships too that can be very challenging.

How do you know when it is time to fire a client, whether you run an NFP, are an attorney, a CPA, a life coach, a realtor, or a investment advisor – everyone in business has had to face this question at one time or another.

Continue reading, but also here is a Toxic Client Checklist I prepared for you to print out. Please respect copyrights, thank you.

“The Challenge of Managing the Toxic Client”

I recently delivered a presentation on “The Challenge of Managing the Toxic Client” to a local business-networking group. I have noticed and experienced that this is one of the most common questions asked of me when I speak to business people: “If the person is a toxic client, how do I know if and when it is time to sever my ties with them?”

In a sense, you are conducting a rigorous cost/benefit analysis that incorporates objective and subjective elements of the impact of the relationship with the toxic client on your work life and your overall well-being. This analysis includes your willingness to examine your own “ego investment” in the relationship and an honest confrontation of your fears and apprehensions.

For example, these fears are often expressed in the following internal narrative:

  • “If I terminate with this client I will lose a lot of money. How will l replace it?”
  • “This is a VIP client that burnishes my professional image and brand. Do I wish to relinquish those benefits?”
  • “If things go south with this client, that could negatively effect my image.” How do I feel about that?
  • “If I wait too long to fire this client, I may have legal exposure.”
  • “This client, due to their toxicity, is going to be very labor-intensive. Will that take away from the time and energy I have available for other clients?”

Toxic Client Checklist

Below is a toxic client checklist that I have created. Would you like to use it? It can be a valuable aid in the decision-making process involved in firing a toxic client.

  1. What is your stress level when interacting with them? On a 1 to 10 scale is it an 8, 9, or a 10? (high-end)
  2. Do your interactions with them emotionally and physically drain you to the extent that you have significantly less energy to bring to your less non-toxic clients?
  3. Have you attempted to get support, insight by bouncing your feelings and thoughts off a colleague, trusted family member, or coach/consultant? (If you have not, please call me – I’m here to help!)
  4. Could keeping them as a client expose you to litigious action by them or other clients?
  5. If you so choose and you assess the client may be “workable” you can do a “litmus test” to measure their capacity for insight and willingness and ability to modify their behavior. Are they able to demonstrate any/all of the following?
    • Accountability
    • Culpability
    • Insight into their emotions, thoughts, motivations
    • Insight into their contribution to the problematic work environment
    • Ability to verbalize behavioral and attitudinal changes they will make to facilitate the establishment of a collaborative and supportive mutual problem-solving setting.

A “yes” answer to just about any one or more of the checklist questions above can be critical signal that it is time to terminate your relationship with the client.

In summary, I wish to reiterate that making a decision about a toxic client is best done on a case-by-case basis. Consult with others to get input on the pros and cons of canceling the work relationship with the client. Sorting out what to do can be obvious or it can be murky.

You might wish to consult a professional coach/consultant. It is worth the time and expense-you will save yourself stress and heartache in the long run.

Peter R. Getoff, MA, LCSW
Human Equation
West Los Angeles Offices
Remote services available nation-wide

business phone 310 729-6460

Partnering with you to solve challenging strategy, personnel, and program business issues for thirty-five years.”

My business is Human Equation. I solve organizational development problems that others have not been able to solve. My focus is on management consulting in strategic planning, program development, and team-building. My office is in West Los Angeles but I provide consultation all over the country.
Business phone number: 310 729-6460

Email address: getoff@sbcglobal.net

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