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Put toxic vendors in their place before they put you on edge

You’re repelled by their behavior. It wastes your time, contributes to a short fuse and drains you. It makes you feel powerless. Should you replace toxic vendors?


“Vendors don’t just supply what you need to run your business,” says Van Moody, CEO at Van Moody Enterprises Corp. in Birmingham, Ala. “If they provide goods or a service that helps your business but threatens, undermines or skews the identity of the owner and the relationship, it becomes toxic.”

Moody, a relationship expert and author, has written and spoken on the effect of toxic workplace relationships.

Tron Jordheim is the chief marketing officer at StorageMart LLP in Columbia, Mo., which rents self-storage facilities in 135 North American locations.

“We use a lot of vendors in marketing, construction, operations and (human resources),” he says. “They may be giving you the right widget or advice, but their method may be a disaster. Follow-up may be terrible. They may be rude to customers (and others) and, with a sense of superiority, comment on all of the flaws in the organization and your people, in spite of being hired to work on one specific issue or product.

“Unfocused geniuses,” he adds, “know so much but can’t focus on the single initiative or project that will bring the best and fastest return.”

Emad Rahim, chief learning officer and diversity consultant at Dewitt, N.Y.-based Global i365 LLC, says, “(Toxic vendors) overpromise, follow unethical practices or aren’t transparent in their communications. You often don’t realize it until after the contract is signed and the deal is moving forward.”

He’s seen other scenarios, such as a client requiring a specific person, a signed contract or an otherwise perfect established vendor who can help you open a market.

These difficult people may spark soul-searching, even if they’re talented. While exasperating, their compulsive talk may make you feel stuck if your work requires excellence, creativity and cost-effectiveness. Their particular niche expertise may also be in short supply, Jordheim says, and you may be unable to find it elsewhere.


So, you’ve decided to keep these vendors. Now what?

“Prepare to manage,” Jordheim says.

Moody says toxic vendors dislike boundaries.

“They create environments that set up their value system,” he says. “Take responsibility by managing time and keeping interactions limited to the (task). Blurring the lines often gives toxic vendors a green light. Change the conversation when boundaries are crossed.”

He cautions that focusing on business growth or increased revenue may tempt you forgo establishing boundaries and sacrifice your values.

Jordheim says to set ground rules. If the person is a chronic talker, interrupt and say, “I’m sorry. These things aren’t business-related. This is a small shop, and I can’t have a personal conversation.”

Sit the rude expert down, he suggests, and be direct, perhaps saying: “I’m not paying you to comment on anything except what I’m paying you to comment on. Your scope is limited to this and you may not talk that way to my employees. And now, let’s get to work.”

What about the unfocused genius?

“It doesn’t hurt to say, ‘OK, I’m going to stop you right there,’” Jordheim says. “ ‘We’re losing focus. We’re talking about XYZ. It’s your goal to get more velocity out of my widget.’ ”

Tread a fine line with a toxic vendor who, as Rahim points out, “may be the best business option for you.” Create boundaries.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2013 Passage Media.

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