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  • Writer's pictureJosh

Cordially Combative: Dealing with a Client Who Thinks They are the Main Character

Updated: May 25

I know what you’re thinking, “dammit Josh, now you are just making shit up!”

I am but stay with me.


Being cordially combative is someone who will be pleasant in their interactions but has a subliminal edge to those interactions. People would say “I don’t know why the PM is so mad at me? I’ve been nothing but polite” even though every interaction was designed to infuriate you.


This goes way beyond being passive-aggressive. It’s just aggressive; aggressive wrapped up in a delightful Disney Princess voice. Cordially combative describes those who see you as an enemy, a gatekeeper, a roadblock preventing them from achieving what they want. They are cordial and polite from the outside, but the words they choose are calculated, designed to attack, belittle, and tear you down.

A little girl dressed as a bunny on a pogo stick, but with an evil sneer on her face.  The caption is "when everyone thinks you're cute but you're secretly evil.

As a PM, this is not what you want. These people are an extreme minority, but they do exist and can cause a lot of mental anguish. How do you deal with it?


Don't Allow Yourself to Become the Villain

In my house, we are obsessed with this French cartoon called Miraculous: The Adventures of Ladybug and Cat Noir. In it, they introduce a character named Lila Rossi, a manipulative, compulsive liar, who presents herself as this gentle, charismatic girl, that causes everyone around her to fall all over themselves to be around her. However, Marinette Dupin-Chang, the show's protagonist, sees through this and decides to call her out on her bullshit. Doing so always ends up bad for Marinette and establishes Lila as a long-running antagonist.


Don’t be Marinette. When in this situation, pointing out how the client is manipulating things and doing so in a manipulative way, just solidifies that you are in fact the villain in this world the client has created. What’s worse, it will cause you to look bad to others on the team, since you are the only one being combative (remember, cordially combative people hide their aggressiveness by sounding like a Disney Princess).


Match Their Tone, Not Their Intention

If they want to masquerade as a sweet little old lady during the meetings, fine… put on your best orthopedic shoes, your flower-adorned wool cloche hat, pour yourself some Irish Breakfast tea, and be prepared to be the sweetest little old lady you can possibly muster.

You’ll never beat them meeting them head-on, and you won’t make any progress trying to control the situation. The best thing you can do is match the tone of the conversation and let them reveal themselves in time.


It’s important to note, however, that their intentions should not be your intentions. Their intentions are to belittle you, to tear you down until they get what they want. Your intentions should be related to having a successful project, and to your team. Their intentions are self-centered, yours should be others-centered.


Make it a Numbers Game

The CC having a single villain that they must face places them in full control. They only have to attack you in order to get what they want. Therefore, reaching out to others, bringing them into the conversation, and expressing your concerns with them forces the client to divide their attention between two people now, and those aggressive strategies that were used against you (that went unnoticed by others) are no longer viable with more than one target.


Who Hurt You? Do You Need a Hug?

It’s very easy to get in a counter mindset to theirs. They see me as a villain. Well, clearly, they are the villain and I’m the hero here, I’m the PM, and I’m the main character!


Don’t do this, it’s very bad.


There are entire courses that deal with being able to read someone and determine any motives or agenda that one might have, and I’m desperately trying to keep this under 1000 words, so I won’t go into it but know that the knowledge of what is causing this aggression, can go a long way in overcoming the problems having a CC client brings.

It allows you to respond directly to the underlying cause.


“Yes, I understand that you had a really bad experience with the last PM you worked with, I can assure you, as soon as we found out they were actually three raccoons in a trench coat, they were immediately fired. I understand that they shouldn’t have made it past HR, but we’re going to grow from it.”


You can’t always do this, which is why my last point is so important.


Prioritize Your Mental Health

No client, no job, and no amount of pay is worth losing sleep, becoming stressed, and burnt out. Remember, the cordially combative believe that you are the antagonist, they are looking to tear you down, to win, to beat you, and it can absolutely wreak havoc on your health.


I dealt with a manager for an internal project team that would burn the entire company to the ground just to get a half-pixel added to the vertical spacing of the fonts used. If it was a major request, be prepared to have her burn the company down, dabble in some human sacrifice, and a live-streamed basement – featuring some old Minoan-style torture, all the while those around her commented on how business savvy she was. It was emotionally and physically exhausting.

An ordable kitten standing on its hind legs with text that says "I will kill you in your sleep"
That is one business savvy kitty

If you are living the same experiences, walk away. Tell your boss that you need out, and put some distance between yourself and the cordially combative person. This isn’t admitting defeat, it’s not losing, it’s not allowing them to win, or admitting they are better than you. It’s prioritizing yourself, over the bad shit.

Quote from the movie War Games: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.  How about a nice game of chess?

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Invitado
01 mar 2023

author: describes someone who can be seen as passive agressive reasonable person: that's being passive agressive

author: no it's not, it's cordially combative

reasonable person: what's the difference

author: gives the definition of passive agression

reasonable person: that's passive agressive

author: your an idiot then

reasonable person *leaves*

author: why is everyone being mean to us?

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