Client Manipulating you Through Drama, Charm or Tantrums?
By Paul Fisher1
When Bernie first came to Ted’s law office, he claimed his two sisters had wrongfully accused him, in his capacity as successor trustee, of taking money and transferring property to himself from their deceased mother’s trust, while mom was still alive but mentally incapacitated. Bernie claimed he was the victim and was very convincing. As the dispute heated up and discovery progressed, Bernie began emailing Ted several times daily, including weekends, rearguing his claims, defenses and counter charges and demanding that Ted reply immediately. During frequent office meetings Bernie was initially charming but became entrenched when Ted attempted to explain the difficulties of his case. His explanations as to his sisters’ accusations changed over time ultimately portraying the sisters as demons and him the innocent. Ted’s additional attempts to discuss the risks in the case led to heated arguments and Bernie’s tantrums and manipulations.
Histrionic personalities need to be the center of attention. If they are not, they may do something dramatic that makes them the center of attention. They manipulate through drama, charm, seduction and temper tantrums. They may lie compulsively. They have a unique world view causing them to see life very differently than other people do. As a result they have an inability to accept responsibility for their actions and blame others for the messes they find themselves in.
Though it is very easy to be drawn in emotionally or physically by seduction, your client needs you at 30,000 feet. If you are on the rollercoaster with him you can’t help him when the coaster takes the plunge from the highest peak (Kingda Ka, 456 feet high, 3,118 feet long and accelerating to 128 miles per hour!). Rather than holding on tight to the safety bar of the rollercoaster, step off at the first opportunity by detaching. Then you can verify the client’s claims and defenses. When you discuss the difficult issues it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, for this client cannot be shaken from his position that he is right. That conversation will quickly lead to repeated arguments and tantrums. Remind this client that your relationship is professional, not personal and that your opinions are professional, not personal. Reframe the conversation. Discuss how the judge could view the case and might possibly accept the opposition’s side of the story, despite the fact you are emphatically his zealous advocate and counselor. Discuss what the trial might look like and will cost to get through emotionally and financially. Set limits on emails, calls and office visits. Ultimately, no matter the outcome, your histrionic client will be unhappy with you or your work. It is not you!
1Copyright by Paul Fisher 2016