For as long as I can remember, I’ve taught that one of the best reasons to move more slowly when interviewing a prospective client is that it’s easier to never get into the relationship, than it is to get out of it once it’s begun.
For the record, this is true for any kind of relationship you can choose to get into. So it’s true for friendship, and employment, and romantic relationships, just as much as it’s true for choosing the clients with whom you’ll work (and if you're a client reading this, it's true for choosing your VA, too!).
But what I’ve never taught is why it’s true; why it’s easier to stay out then to get out later. That ends today.
The bottom-line reason can be framed in two words: emotional hooks.
When you first meet (virtually or in person) someone, she has no emotional hooks in you. And so, if a during the interview/consulttion she displays some quality you dislike, or behaves in a way that you dislike, it’s very easy to walk away.
But once in the relationship, emotional connections (“hooks”) begin to be made. You learn about her childhood dog—which reminds you of Scruffy and how much you loved him, and there’s a hook. You find out her mother and she have the best relationship—which makes you wistful because you and your mother have anything but that, and there’s a hook. You learn that she loves to IM and really dislikes email—which is tremendous because you do, too, and you never thought you’d find a client who was like you that way, and there’s a hook.
Hooks are everywhere inside a relationship, and with every one that embeds itself in you, leaving the relationship gets harder.
So, if there are a variety of places where you’ve been hooked, and suddenly something happens and the client behaves in a way you find horrible, you may want to quit over it, but what you’re more likely to do, in my experience, is give the client the benefit of the doubt about it. And truly, that’s a wonderfully relationally mature thing to do, the first time. But hooks make it hard to do anything else. And chances are that, over time, you’ll make gobs of excuses for bad behavior, for unethical actions, for all sorts of things that you find untenable. You’ll want to leave, but that want will butt up against, and lose against, a justification or rationalization you create in order to convince yourself that you're experiencing really "isn't that bad."
Hear me now—"not that bad," IS that bad. You deserve to never utter those words. You deserve a practice filled with clients who actually fit with you, rather than clients you make excuses for to yourself.
Emotional hooks make the difference between walking away easily and quickly, and feeling bogged down, locked in, and unable to really consider it.
People around you will likely not get it. They'll probably patiently endure your whining for awhile, but then start to avoid you rather than have to hear about it. From where they sit, you should just quit and be done with it. Easy for them to say; they have no emotional hooks.
Once you’re hooked, you’ll stay till you cannot stay any more. No matter how irrational it seems, no matter what your friends say or see, regardless of what you know to be true deep inside, you will absolutely stay as long as you can.
If it’s a relationship you truly ought to be out of, reasons to leave will continue to present themselves. And one day, something will tip the scale for you, and you will be done. It will be like someone flipped a switch, or you took a magical hook-removal tool and plucked them all out of you. You will immediately feel able to walk away. You can count on that happening.
But the time between the first difficult moment and the day you’re able to remove the hooks and leave will be painful for you. You can count on that happening, too.
To avoid the pain, I ardently suggest that you go slowly when you interview/consult. I advocate at least three conversations, and a combined time of at least two hours together—more if you have more to say or discuss, and spanning at least a week to give you both time to reflect and process what you're experiencing.
Let’s face it, you wouldn’t marry someone after 20 minutes of conversation (or, at least that’s my hope!), so don’t do the business equivalent of that by hopping into a relationship with a client without a bit of a virtual courtship.
Be sure to talk through all sorts of things. Ask, for instance, how a client communicates being upset.
That one question will likely tell you a lot, and it’s a great example because everyone immediately understands the importance of it. If the client’s answer is along the lines of “I’m a hothead. I’ll blow up, yell at you, expect you to take it, and then I’ll apologize 20 minutes later and probably send you a Starbucks gift card because I’ve been horrid,” and you know you cannot bear being yelled at, you have a good reason to end things there.
You don’t need to move forward, get emotionally hooked by her puppy, her herb garden, and her love of zebras, and then feel the pain of her upset when it happens—like most people who don’t talk about such things would need to. You would KNOW, upfront, that her way of being in those kinds of situations wouldn’t work for you, and you could get out before getting in.
Another example? Ask how she sees time. Is 10am a literal point in time to be met, or is 10am really 10am-ish? If you know that you’re an on-the-dot person and she tells you she’s an ish-time person, walk away right there or count on suffering through countless moments of resentment every time she’s late, or early.
Think through things that bug you and things you like and admire. Be sure you ask about those things in your interview/consultation.
Fit doesn’t happen on just the nuts-and-bolts level, so don’t choose to move forward based solely on that level of fit. Go deeper to learn what you need to know to make the best decision about moving forward, and hold as truth that it’s easier to not get in than to get out later once there have been emotional hooks.