EGO: It’s dangerous! Take These!

Ego is one of the most dangerous and destructive things we have in our condition. Terribly Dangerous.

I used to carry mine around (I still do, to an extent) but I’m learning. I’d cave in and throw my ego around when the deal went downhill. Then the other person will follow suit because I initiated the ego battle. Or vice-versa.

But an ego fight is one nobody wins. It’s really just two people guarding their own specific mountains of bullshit and comparing whose is taller and smellier. Then we both go at it, until no one really decides on anything and just kinda ignore each other until we find the next guy with his own mountain and start back at square one.

I really hated and hate dealing with clients having huge egos. Likewise, I’m sure clients find it endlessly frustrating to deal with a prima donna who thinks they know everything just because they have so-and-so’s acclaim at so-and-so’s gallery or won so-and-so’s award.

It’s the biggest damper to any progress the project can attain and it’s insidious because once any one person brings it out -particularly the client- the project is OVER. The reason I stress it’s important for the client in particular not to break out the ego is simply because the client holds the power of Commission. They already do not need to have an ego.

So when they do, the project just derails because by throwing their weight on the table, they’ve instantly depreciated the value of whatever it is they were offering; regardless how high or low it was and they end up paying more money than they bargained for.

Sure, the job gets done and that may be all they care about. But it also demolishes any opportunities and bridges. And any businessperson will tell you that is not a good thing.

I had a client once who had a few wristwatches and he wanted to design the cases and put engravings on them. For all intents and purposes, he was among the best clients I’ve had to this day in my (young) career and he was very careful in managing not just the practical aspects but also the personal ones as well.

I remember it was a long-term project and there was a point when we had a disagreement on the designs’ malleability for 3D production, when they had to be sent to the manufacturer. The thing that impressed me most about my client was that when I fell off my chair and started to wield my ego shield — a developed defense mechanism after working with so many clients — he kept his cool and maintained the balance on each person’s power. Not many people, I find, are able to do that.

Eventually, we managed to resolve every problem we encountered and the designs went into production. In hindsight, he gave me the option to forgo some of my opinions — here I stress the word opinions, as opposed to experienced, practical advice — in exchange for pragmatic solutions. And why shouldn’t I have forgone my half-assed, unfounded opinions? He is the CLIENT. He shouldn’t have to stand having his commission questioned. I didn’t have to stymie any creativity nor did any one person depreciate their dignity in the process.

It was a quiet, lossless victory for everyone.

In the case of the client

However sometimes, battles start before we’ve even known who the enemy is. When you receive quotation requests and if that starts a chain of back-and-forth emails followed by cold silence, or just a cold silence from the beginning altogether which is more often the case; you then know that was not a project worth taking. It would’ve quickly devolved into a battle of ego determining intangible values and amounts. “Who’s right” rather than “What’s right”.

A client who argues with you a lot, especially only on your decisions, has already revealed their insecurity in their power of commission. It’s quite often you find they also happen to fulfill the tantrum-throwing stereotype, like how kids whine louder and louder when their parents don’t buy them that toy.

In a lot of cases, that also hints that they know they underpaid [in which case the vendor has to ask themselves why they accepted it in the first place? The client also has to ask themselves why they didn’t get a vendor they trusted instead of going for the cheapest and are now constantly arguing with their work all the time?]. Is it any wonder that by that time, the fully-wound up freelancer who has put up with all their shit sends them the invoice with all sorts of sneaky, “hidden charges”? Because the client gave them the cue to up the price! Their loud, obnoxious rambling indicated they were not confident in their payment and so of course the provider upped the fee. That’s Asshole Tax.

No one is right, here. But when you’re at that point, it’s no longer about who is right, just who shouted loudest.

In the case of the service-provider

Likewise, a vendor who persistently argues for the sake of arguing might hint at an insecurity in their services. No big surprise there, every client should know this.

But pray listen: the client has the unique position here to consider that in the relationship, the vendor has a lot more at stake to come under suspect. With the advent of all sorts of disruptors, plugins and one-button solutions available, the vendor is under greater pressure than ever to deliver with integrity.

My advice based on experience from both the driver’s seat as well as the passenger’s, is that it’s best to be generous with your benefit of doubt, client or vendor. Sometimes, it really was not as straightforward as it seemed to be because of overestimation.

As clients, the weight of the money can get to our heads, making us overly cautious and shelled-up, thinking that ‘this guy/girl is just out to cheat me of every penny I have.’

As vendors, we know ourselves that the boat we sail might not always stay afloat. In which case: acknowledge, apologize and assure.

Stories of clients/ vendors getting cheated, stiffed or frozen aplenty have reinforced fears and created a gulf between vendor and investor. When it comes down to it, you should always have the confidence in your commission as a client and skills as a vendor to avoid an ego fight that gets you nowhere.