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Recognize Toxic Patterns and Put and End to Them

Oct 11, 2020

Elle was a talent manager in the entertainment business, overseeing the careers of film and television actors. She and I became acquainted after a media interview I did while she happened to be in the studio. After hearing my interview on boundaries, she walked up and introduced herself and asked if we could have lunch. We walked over to the cafeteria, sat down to eat, and she began to tell me about her work.

She loved it, she said, but she had some clients who made her life miserable. The few were wrecking her otherwise happy and meaningful career. They would get angry at her for their mistakes, be far more demanding than anyone would see as normal, and be irresponsible with their money – not following her advice – and then be upset at her when they found themselves in trouble. They were ruining what she loved about her career, she said.

“So fire them,” I said.

“What? Fire my clients?” she asked.

“Sure, what’s wrong with that? Not all of them, just the ones who are making life miserable for you. But you won’t actually have to fire them. Just give them a performance review like you would in any other relationship.”

“A performance review?” she asked.

“Sure. Just tell them that you have certain expectations of your clients, as they do of you. You expect them to follow your instructions to get the information to you that you need, and to treat you with respect. Then, tell them that they are not doing these things and that if you are going to continue to work together, they are going to have to do better. If they don’t, then you don’t want to continue being their manager,” I explained.

“That’s scary …” she said. “If they don’t meet my expectations, then I will lose some clients, and I need their business.”

“So now we get to the real problem,” I said. “You are dependent on some not-so-good-people. I think you had better address that problem first, and then you can do what you need to do.”

About a year later, she called me and asked to join her for coffee. When we sat down, she was beaming. “I did it,” she said. “I got rid of the bad ones, and I’m loving my work. I could not be happier.”

“That’s great,” I said. “How did you do it?”

“Well, first things first. I found some new clients and took on some part-time script-consulting work, so I knew I would have the income needed to pay my expenses.” Then I had those conversations we discussed. Some got mad and went away, and a few changed their behavior, but all in all, I now have clients with whom I love working, and I like my job again,” she said. “In fact, it seems that I am attracting better clients now that I have changed.”

“That usually is what happens,” I said. “Change yourself and the world changes around you. Good job!”

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