Positive Snark Management

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Have you ever had a snarky client? I can hear you laughing. Yes, it's a natural rite of passage for a creative leader to be faced with managing snarkiness. You can snark back at her or you can choose professionalism and, perhaps, even take the relationship to a higher level of partnership. I call this higher level Positive Snark Management. Should you choose to accept this PSM mission, here are a few thoughts to consider.

Snarky comments may be intended as "funny," but it's most often experienced as critical, cutting, or snide. Those clients who "know" color theory and design principles better than us. Those clients who think that saying "it looks so professional" is a compliment. Those clients who tell us that our jeans are cool.

They're trying hard to speak in a foreign language (creative) and appear knowledgeable. They're likely insecure about our world and envious of our jeans. I would be if I were looking in from the outside. Knowing this perspective is the key to the doorway to Positive Snark Management.

The doorway is Compassion. The Snarky Client has expertise, skills and talents abounding! And yet, she can't speak Creative because she isn't, at least not in the way we are. And yet, she's required to collaborate with and guide us on her project objectives. To a great degree, her annual review and potential raise is based on our performance! So she reads up on color theory, gives what she considers compliments and tries to connect via jeans comments. Truly. The snarkiest snarky clients I've worked with were just trying to connect and understand the creative creature--which is very different from the nasty client, but that's a whole other post.

So how do you graduate to the Positive Snark Management level? You need to experience compassion--for yourself and for your snarky client. There are many responses you can use when your snarky client zings you. WHAT you say is important, and HOW you say it is crucial. Tone of voice is paramount! Read through these responses in a calm and compassionate (not pitying) voice.

ZING!

"That raises a question I've had. During our work together, I may unintentionally use terminology that seems foreign. If I do, would you consider calling me on it respectfully so I can adjust and we can build toward speaking a shared language."

ZING!

"I didn't understand that. Can you say that again in another way? I really want to accomplish our shared goals."

ZING!

"Sometimes I feel like we're speaking two different languages. Do you? How can we get a shared language?"

ZING!

"That's an interesting approach to color theory. May I share with you how I feel it applies to this project? My training has led me to understand it differently than you."

The connection among these responses is that they're not personal. They address your frustration with the snarky clients' tone and her frustration with whatever it is that is leading her to snarkiness. Once you master this non-personal approach, the relationship can shift to a healthier more respectful tone.

It takes two to do the Snark Samba. Positive Snark Management stops the dancing and starts connecting people. It's beautiful.

Image Richard Riley
Originally written for and posted on Cella Consulting.