hostile client

How to Improve the Working Relationship With a Hostile Coworker or Client

If we’ve learned anything from Covid-19, the related vaccinations and mandates, work-from-home arrangements, return-to-the-office options, or financial incentives, it’s this: People hate to be forced to do anything, even if convinced it might be to their benefit.

Sooner or later, you’re going to run into a similar wall of resistance from a coworker or client who acts hostile toward you because they’ve been forced to cooperate with you, buy from you, or work with you against their will.

Either their boss has made a decision to buy from you and left them only the formality of signing the contract, or they’ve served on a decision-making team and cast a dissenting vote. Subsequently, they’ve been “iced out” and selected to administer the contract and serve as your point of contact. Ouch!

You may also find yourself in the tough position of handling a Hostile Hostage when you’re a sole-source provider. That is, you’re the only kid on the block with the toy or expertise the colleague or client wants or needs.  They feel like the 7-year-old saying to a parent, “I hate you and I’m going to run away from home. Would you pack me a lunch, please?” And you want to respond, “I feel like letting you run away from home—but I’m your parent and need to take care of you!”

So how to work together to implement a decision or project when the coworker or client feels as though he or she has been “taken hostage” in the situation?


3 Ways to Improve the Working Relationship With a Hostile Coworker or Client


Don’t Pull Rank If You’ve Climbed Higher in the Food Chain

If you made your connection and, in effect, closed the “deal” (decision) with the Hostile Hostage’s boss, never flaunt that situation. Your Hostile Hostage knows that all too well. Set  your goal on winning the confidence and trust of your current contact—the person you need to work with day to day to get the job done.

Eliminate comments such as “When Ms. VIP and I spoke the other day, we were discussing the critical importance of …” or “Mr. VIP wanted me to let you know that he prefers …” Such comments convey that you’re on the inside track and the coworker is the outsider in his or her own backyard.

Your contact will work to lower the rungs on your ladder.


Never Assume You Can Quit Selling the Decision, Idea, or Change

Just because the boss “made the decision” at some point, don’t assume automatically that the decision can’t or won’t be reversed. Assume that you personally must also establish your personal credibility with the Hostile Hostage as it relates to the idea, plan, or organization.

Although you may not make other formal presentations, look for opportunities to drop your credentials and evidence of performance into your conversations. Every contact, particularly the primary liaison, needs confidence that you can deliver what you promised.


Make the Hostile Coworker or Client a Star

Never leave your Hostile Hostage in the dark about what kind of “press” they’re getting when you’re alone with the boss. Copy the boss on emails of commendation about how they’re handling the implementation of the project and other relationships. Make sure your oral comments to the boss get “filtered” back down to the Hostile Hostage.

Make sure the Hostile Hostage stars in your story, and let them know they’re critical to the outcome and your success.


Expecting someone to love being forced to accept and implement decisions with which they disagree is unreasonable. But upgrading their hostility to cooperation is entirely reasonable and possible.


Learn more ways to communicate with hostile parties in Communicate With Confidence!: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time.

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