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Eat Cheesecake

The simple trick that saved our company (and our blood pressure)

The simple trick that saved our company (and our blood pressure)

Before Kate and I began Skillcrush, we ran a web design and development company. In that company we built websites for clients big and small.

If you have ever worked with clients you know that they have a special talent for pushing your buttons. It’s not that they are objectively annoying, they are, after all, usually just expressing their preferences, but whether it’s that they don’t like your color choices, want to make a major last minute change or are just feeling a bit neglected, it’s easy to end up feeling like it’s you against them.

Early on in our company we found ourselves repeatedly getting frustrated with our clients and their seemingly endless needs and desires.

A client would email us about some change, large or small, we wouldn’t take it well, passive aggressive or aggressively aggressive emails would fly, everyone would get upset, and soon we would find ourselves ensnared in a big old, completely avoidable, MESS.

After having similar incidents playout with a number of clients, it began to dawn on us that we couldn’t push off all of the responsibility to our clients and their “unreasonableness.” They might have been setting the bait (sometimes unwittingly), but we sure as hell were taking it.

The problem we realized was that email made it so easy and fast and impersonal to respond to our clients, that we would get caught up in the moment and say things and act in ways that we really weren’t proud of.

After some discussion, we decided that we needed a code word, something that would stop us in our tracks and remind us to take time to consider our response.

But what word could we use? We knew from experience that telling one another to “calm down” was NOT the answer. Those words seemed to have another, equally deleterious effect: “calm down” only flamed the fire and often redirected it towards whomever had the poor sense to utter the phrase.

No, we needed something different. Something unrelated, something funny, something that would not only stop us from sending THAT email but also make us a laugh.

The code word would be…cheesecake!

Neither of us can remember who suggested cheesecake, but the second we heard it we knew it was perfect.

When one of us got caught up in the moment, the other would say: “Hey, I think you need to go eat some cheesecake.”

Soon “cheesecake” became a running joke that could be applied to all sorts of sticky situations.

Did you receive an unnecessarily hostile email from a client? That client must not be eating their cheesecake.

Got a pile of last minute client changes? Looks like it’s time to go eat a whole cheesecake.

Find yourself being yelled at by your business partner? Time to hit them in the face with a cheesecake.

The trick was simple, but it worked. By invoking cheesecake, we were reminded to take a step back and act from a place of calm, not agitation. And the results? Remarkable: happier clients, and two much more relaxed ladies.

What tricks have you used for handling difficult work situations? Tell us in the comments!

Your email address will not be published.

6 comments

  1. I’m sure I gave you guys my fair share of “cheesecake” moments: and you handled them with aplomb! Now I know why!

  2. Vibeke Replied

    This is awesome. It means getting out of your fighting stance, rising above it all and using your sense of humor which can overcome mountains of strife. If I feel tetchy about something but I must get it off my chest I write all my emotional reflex stuff in a word doc. Then I get someone else to read it in confidence. Then I apply the BIFF rule (brief, informative, firm & friendly). Then, maybe then, I paste whatever is still left in an email. However it could very well be I should have picked up the phone in the first place and asked some questions to start with, because it’s likely that I’ve missed some vital information. Be curious first, judge later ; )

  3. The picture of you two is hysterical! I could definitely use some cheesecake in my life! I usually internalize frustrations, which does me no good and just wears me out. I do need to find a way to get centered. Thanks for the article and wallpaper :)

  4. Pat Blake Replied

    My previous worklife was that of a freelancer/tech writer. I constructed my fees based on a per-word cost that included one round of edits. Any edits beyond that were charged at an hourly rate.

    So my clients knew that their first round of edits was “on the house,” but subsequent changes (which I was happy to make) would come with a fee. Seemed to keep both sides happy and surprising efficient.

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