Dealing with a client’s wrath

Illustrative case-

I confronted CEO James that unless he replaced his buddy Serge as focal point for the Thai/Singapore/Indonesian office, there would be massive churn of key sales people. James turn livid and told me that “I didn’t hire you to replace Serge, but rather to align the South Asian offices to our culture. So, if you cannot do that job, maybe I need to replace you. You cost me a lot of money, and you don’t deliver.”


Speaking truth to power means, “when necessary confront the powers that be about what they are doing wrong without fear.” Speaking truth to power was a cornerstone of organizational development.

I am aware that the “speak truth to power” generation of OD professionals has either retired or died…or perhaps (like me), they are still in the game albeit towards the final “laps”.

I am aware that the newer generation of OD consultants strives to “please” clients,  creating a “wow” outcome, or what Reddin called “apparent effectiveness”.

I have never been reticent of confronting my clients, It is a central tenant of my practice. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons that I am still hired.

In the course of my career, I have incurred a huge amount of initial wrath from clients upon confronting them with unpleasant truths. While it helps that I am personable and have a good sense of humour, there is something unpleasant when the client lashes back.

Here are a few things that keep me afloat when under attack.

  1. It is natural for clients to respond this way.
  2. The client is apparently very involved, which is very positive.
  3. I must check the content of what the client is saying, because I may be wrong.
  4. I did what I did because I am doing my job. I am also being paid a high fee to take the heat.
  5. This type of interaction will make me into a better consultant and the build the clients’ trust.

And when it gets really hard-one minute at a time.




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3 thoughts on “Dealing with a client’s wrath

  1. Allon,

    Agreed. I, like you are closer to a final lap! This type of OD isn’t practiced as much, sadly.
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness and sarcasm; not to mention truthfulness.

  2. Hi Allon – Good, tough subject. I really like your five points – such can keep oneself honest…
    I have the scars and the war stories also, as others do…

    I always make a ‘contract’ about such ‘what if’ boundaries as part of the initial part of the journey working with the client. It is a good way to talk about the things others fear to talk about. I try to get a sense of the potential client’s boundaries that way.

    Speaking for myself only, I also know that I can only speak my truth. Such is my highest order – not OD, or anything else. What the client does with that is not my responsibility. If one sees the other as having ‘the power’ then one can easily reinforce such an illusion of that power.

    It is always interesting what is behind that type of outburst. That is where the good stuff lies…

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