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Even though I am very, very good at arguing; I'm not really a big fan of confrontation. I know some of my online interactions may show something different, I don't really like watching all the Karen freakout videos or the socially awkward comedies that a lot of other people enjoy. Those just aren’t my thing.
Regardless, things happen in business - even the business of podcasting - and at some point, we’ll all be drawn into an argument or some other form of an uncomfortable conversation. I had three of them yesterday. (Thanks, Universe.) Only two were about podcasting, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be having another heated exchange today. Yay.
As much as we like, we can’t escape tough talks. But we can get through them easier if we keep focused on the end of the fight.
Understanding The Least Acceptable Outcome
I knew what I was getting into with all three of those conversations yesterday, so I had a little time to prepare. Reflecting back on prior heated exchanges in a professional setting, I couldn’t think of many where I was completely taken off-guard. I may not have always had a long time to prepare, but I always knew that, to paraphrase Gorgeous George, this might get messy.
So before you fight, or as quickly as you can once you’re in the fight, you need to orient yourself on understanding the worst that can happen at the end. Of course, you need to be reasonable and realistic with your assessment, and avoid taking it to the extreme. I suppose we can’t rule out all possibility that nuclear armageddon or a prison sentence will ensue, but I think we can agree that neither of those is probable.
One way to avoid catastrophic thinking is to reframe it: What is the least acceptable outcome - to you - that can come from this?
Looked at from this perspective, the range of possible outcomes quickly narrows. Most often, the least acceptable outcome is a severing of the relationship. I've been in business long enough to know that I only want to work with people that I like. For me, losing a client is the least acceptable outcome. But it is acceptable.
But not all difficult conversations for working podcasters are with our clients. Sometimes it’s with the people we work with on the podcast. Maybe our cohost. Maybe a producer. Or maybe someone else who works behind the scenes. Once again, you need to know the least acceptable outcome before you do anything.
As before, it might mean a severing of the relationship. And maybe that means you’re the one who leaves. That’s OK, as long as you have it as your least acceptable outcome. Clearly, if you own (or think you own) the show or a portion of it, then it’s a lot tougher for you to see leaving as the least acceptable, but still acceptable, outcome.
Complications From Entanglement
But it’s not always easy to walk away or show someone the door. One of the biggest challenges is entanglement. And by that I mean how interconnected that person is with the rest of your podcasting business. Before you unleash your least acceptable outcome, you need to think about the pain and suffering you’ll go through just getting them out of your system and processes.
If you sever the relationship with a client, you’re responsible for transferring assets over to that client. Not just legal or ethically responsible. It’s the responsible thing to do for your own sanity and overall business health! So if you’ve done some really dumb things like tied all clients together in a single hosting account, getting an ex-client’s show out of there is going to take effort and probably continued conversations with someone you don’t like working with! Or maybe you’ve submitted their show to all the directories using your own personal or business accounts and/or emails. Pulling back from that near-Gordian knot of your own design isn’t something you want to deal with then. So deal with it now.
Similarly, if you need to fire someone from the team, how much havoc can they do until you get them unplugged? Yes, we’re all adults and the social contract still exists to not be giant dicks to one another, but it happens. Do you have a plan for rescinding access - all access - in a moment’s notice? If not, you should.
With both of those come the legal challenge. What sorts of written agreements exist, and what do they say about terminating the relationship? Is there a time-dependency that requires 30-days notice, for example? What about payments - future or past - owed or un-invoiced? And who owns what? Gaming this out now will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
But Podcasters Still Gotta Eat, Right?
Not everyone has the luxury of kicking out a pain-in-the-ass client. Clients have something we want: money. Money so we can keep our business running. Oh, and our families fed. Most businesses work really hard to not lose clients. It's almost always cheaper to keep a client than it is to get a new client. And when a client is responsible for 50% or 90% or 100% of your revenues, it may seem impossible to show them the door.
Fortunately for me, my client roster is broad enough that I can survive the loss of a problem client. I’ve worked hard to eliminate every scrap of unnecessary entanglement precisely because of this reality. That allows me to quickly cut ties. Not every working podcaster is in a similar position of privilege, I understand.
Some conversations are worth fighting over. Some aren’t. Keeping your focus on the end of the fight - your least acceptable outcome - can lighten your load when you’re in the thick of it.
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Maybe you know another podcaster who's stuck in a bad situation, either with a client or with their team, and they need to have a difficult conversation. Please share this episode with them along with your personal recommendation. I hope it helps.
Enjoy the rest of your day and your weekend. I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.