Author Topic: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions  (Read 4901 times)

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Danika

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Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« on: March 09, 2012, 07:24:11 PM »
I have my own business and while I don't have to take on every client who comes my way, I always want to be polite because I don't want to get bad business reviews or have them say bad things about my company.

I will be having surgery this coming week. I talked with a new potential client a few weeks ago and I wanted to warn him that I would be out of the office and away from my computer and phone for a few weeks. My surgery is pretty big involving a stay at the hospital and many days on pain medication. I could have just told him "I will be out of the office for several weeks" but I didn't want to give him the impression that I was vacationing on a beach instead of doing the work. And I am not sure when I'll be able to return to work because it depends upon how quickly I heal. So I was honest about having surgery.

When we were on the phone, I had a small insight into his boundary-stomping behavior because he asked how old I was. It's not relevant to my work. I was so caught off guard that I answered honestly because the only other answer I could think of was "That's none of your business."

We met in person to go over some questions. I rolled up my sleeves to start taking notes and he saw my arm where I have some eczema because I had bandaids there to cover a small burn that I'd gotten taking a hot cookie sheet out of the oven a month ago. The adhesive from bandaids sometimes gives me a rash. The injury area looked worse than it was because of this. He said in shock "Wow, what happened to your arm?" I told him. He kept asking more about the hot oven and the cookie sheet. Then, he quickly segued into asking me what happened to my wrist on the other arm. I have a 1 1/2 inch scar there because I had surgery on it two months ago. I told him I had surgery on that, and I tried to get back to the topic at hand. My business is in engineering/IT and my scars or injuries have absolutely no bearing upon how well I work or anything related to that. He then started asking more questions about my wrist surgery. My wrist surgery was not a traumatic event and I'm a very open person so I don't mind talking about it, but I really wanted to stay on schedule and get back to work. Plus, what if my scars had been caused by something more traumatic in my life? Like memories I'd rather not think of. It was out of line for him to be asking those questions. I kept bean dipping.

At another point, he asked about my upcoming surgery. I said "I'm sure you don't want to know the details." Beandip. He asked again immediately. I couldn't think of anything else polite to say so I thought if I told him some of the uncomfortable truth, he'd stop. I find that sometimes people who ask out of line questions get squicked out by the truth and then say "That was Too Much Information. I didn't want to know that!" Then, they shouldn't ask. I replied "my injuries are thanks to a combination of bad genes and two pregnancies." Beandip. And he wanted to know more. I was so very tempted at this point to say "Believe me. You don't want to hear all about my <insert some accurate terms for female anatomy>, nor does your wife want to know you've learned details about another woman's <insert term for female anatomy>." But I just said "Believe me. You don't want to know" and beandipped yet again.

After this meeting, I was highly annoyed. What things could I have done to handle this differently? I have three other clients that I told "I'm having surgery in mid-March and will be out of the office until early April." The two polite ones who I have always liked have respected that. One other client who is generally pretty entitled, self-absorbed and clueless at least had the class to say "I don't want to be nosy. What kind of surgery are you having?" But that exchange was via email so I just didn't answer her question when I answered the rest of the questions related to my engineering work for her."

How does one stay polite to a client, all the while answering every personal question like "Not your business... beandip" or "Let's stay on topic... beandip." I have no problem chit-chatting with clients about cars or sports or the weather. And I'm not a super secretive person. I just don't know how to handle the blatantly and repeatedly rude.

ETA the most obnoxious point of the whole meeting. He said he wanted to hire my company. We were wrapping up and then he brought up a highly controversial subject. I'm not sure if I can post even the term here. Let's just say it's a very controversial subject. And he started talking about that and stating his viewpoint and opinion as if it were fact. I believe the exact opposite. I politely refuted his false claims, fact by fact. But who even brings up a topic like politics or religion when discussing computer software work?! It was totally irrelevant!
« Last Edit: March 09, 2012, 07:29:11 PM by Danika »

NyaChan

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Re: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2012, 07:40:28 PM »
The thing is - when you tell him "You don't want to know" it isn't going to work because as far as he is concerned, he DOES want to know.  Probably better to just say, "Thank you for asking after me, but I don't really want to discuss it.  Now have you seen the specs for..."  So far it seems that when he asks you questions that are personal, you do actually give him the answer rather than just saying that you don't want to talk about it, so being a bit more clear that you aren't worried so much about grossing him out as you are that you have no desire to share information with him might help.  Then again, judging by the number of bean dip threads on here, maybe not   :-\

kareng57

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Re: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2012, 08:12:05 PM »
This is a tough one, and it doesn't really help you now - but, in the future if it's necessary, how about saying something like "I will be unavailable for the next few weeks for personal reasons.  In the meantime, if you have business needs, I suggest you call ABC who has agreed to cover my clients".  (ABC being another business-owner in the same field with whom you have a good relationship; you'd do the same for her if necessary).

Yes, of course the medical questions are intrusive and rude - but deflection often doesn't work and it can be best not to open up the topic in the first place.  Some people just love to talk about anything medically-related.

mlkind1789

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Re: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2012, 12:56:30 PM »
I think you need to shut this down as quickly as possible.  "I don't really care to discuss it.  Now, about those right-handed wing nuts we need to use for the left-handed widgets..."


The evil part of me (of maybe not so evil) would say something along the lines of "I bill by the hour, I'm sure you don't want to sit here and have a conversation about my surgery on your dime.  Let's get back to the topic at hand."  I think that might be a bit harsh, but maybe not.

Lynnv

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Re: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2012, 01:34:31 PM »
I think you need to shut this down as quickly as possible.  "I don't really care to discuss it.  Now, about those right-handed wing nuts we need to use for the left-handed widgets..."


The evil part of me (of maybe not so evil) would say something along the lines of "I bill by the hour, I'm sure you don't want to sit here and have a conversation about my surgery on your dime.  Let's get back to the topic at hand."  I think that might be a bit harsh, but maybe not.

I think it is a bit harsh when the OP wants to maintain good client relationships

More importantly, though, it leaves the door open to the discussion.  Which I think is the biggest problem the OP is having in the first place.  It is tough to be put on the spot and think, quickly, of a way not to answer questions.  But the OP is answering the questions, and the client is either not getting the hint that OP doesn't want to talk about it or doesn't care about the hint.  OP needs to, politely, shut down the personal questions before it ever gets to this point.

I used to use something like, "Oh-nothing important.  It looks worse that it is.  Now, let's get back to building the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator."  Or, if it is a client I know a little better, "Oh-nothing important.  You know how it is training iguanas for the show ring-a new danger lurks around every corner.  Now, lets get back to our discussion of the plutonium needed to complete our Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator." 

Once you start answering the questions, it is (IME, anyway) harder to shut down than if you deflect the earliest ones and try to get back to business. 
Lynn

"Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat."  Robert A. Heinlein

Danika

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Re: Clients who cross the line with intrusive questions
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2012, 03:46:36 PM »
You're all right. I need to shut it down earlier. I like the different suggestions here. Thank you. It's sad, because I am an open person and normally don't care if someone asks me a question or two about a scar, but then it seems to keep the door open to further questioning.