What do you do when a client asks you out on a date?And what do you do if a client hits on you and don’t stop? Read on for tips on turning down a client who wants to date you.
Turning down a client who wants to date you is much harder than turning down an average date outside of work. You don’t want to make it awkward or lose a deal, but you also want to make it clear that you’re not interested.
These are issues you would never need to think about in your dating life when work isn’t involved. And if you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, it’s bound to happen to you at some point.
Is it personal?
How many times haven’t I heard it? The casual remark about wanting to go for drinks after a client dinner. An email directed only at you, and not at your team, asking for a catch-up when you are clearly not senior enough to do that with him.
Clients have invited me on vacations, dinners, or just sent plain sexual proposals.
I’ve caught myself thinking that they can’t take me seriously if they do that. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it isn’t.
I think women need to come to terms with that there’s not anything they’re doing wrong. If you’re kicking ass on a deal, people are bound to be impressed, and maybe someone projects that onto romantic feelings, although they shouldn’t.
Others just lack the ability to differentiate between personal life and work. Others again just don’t respect your boundaries. That’s a reflection of their personal issues, not yours. Start by always remembering that when you feel a situation is undermining you as a professional.
How to turn them down
Turning them down can be difficult. When you know they are decision makers, or close to the people who are and can drive revenues for your boss. Saying yes just to please your boss is not a good idea, though. If that’s what you were thinking.
Be polite but firm. If you have a husband or boyfriend, tell them. I know it isn’t fair that you need to “belong to” another man to be able to turn someone down, but it does help.
If you don’t, make sure you’re both polite and clear. Being vague will only make them ask again later, and the advances will continue.
Write a standard reply beforehand
Have a standard answer written down beforehand if you expect it, or just create a standard version you can use several times. It’s easier to think clearly and find a good response if you’re not standing in the middle of the situation. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Say you have a policy of not dating anyone you meet through work, and that it has nothing to do with him.
My favorite reads something like this:
I appreciate the offer, but I have a strict policy of not dating people I meet through work. I enjoy working with you, and I hope we will keep doing that in the future as well.
Yes, I wish I could simply say “no, I’m not interested”, but honestly, I try being nice and making up an excuse anyway. Mostly because it makes me feel less uncomfortable.
Ignore emails or text when they’re sent at weird hours
Unless it’s about a deal, ignore all messages you receive at odd hours. Midnight emails about something urgent at work should, of course, always be replied to. But those aren’t the type of emails I’m talking about.
Listen to Ted from How I Met Your Mother. Nothing good happens after 2 AM. If you get late-night texts with questions on where you are, and if you’d like to get a drink, simply ignore it. You can politely reply the next morning saying you were asleep.
If they’re drunk and out, any reply can lead to them coming on to you again. And it’s just so much easier to turn down someone when they’re sober.
When you’re not sure if it’s a date
If you’re not sure if it’s a date or not, the situation can be more tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to signal that you’re interested if he intends it as a date. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to miss a good networking opportunity.
In these situations, I also like to mention a boyfriend or similar to make sure they know I’m not interested in anything more. I also always set the activity to daytime. Ie. no drinks or dinner, only coffee or lunch.
You can also try to include a colleague if you’re not sure. If the request is only for you and they get awkward when you try pulling a colleague into your plans, then it was likely meant as a date.
You could also just ask them directly if you’re comfortable with that. I’m usually not. Hence the other strategies.
If a client hits on you and won’t stop
Sometimes, turning down someone doesn’t help, and they keep asking you out. Or they even start acting creepy and making inappropriate comments.
The polite reply has failed. Now, what do you do?
Know that it isn’t your fault when a client hits on you even though you’ve said no. They obviously have a personal issue.
I know some people who have gone to their bosses or HR, and they’ve said that client isn’t welcome anymore. That it doesn’t matter how much revenue they bring in. I admire those leaders.
When I mentioned a very intrusive client to my HR department, I was just asked to not attend those events (even the events my bank was hosting), if there were clients giving me trouble.
I considered that to be a carer breaker, so I decided to just stick it out, and laugh off his uncomfortable comments.
But I also informed one of my colleagues who would surface anytime he saw said client approach me, and he didn’t dare to hit on me as long as someone else was there.
Advice from senior bankers
I’ve also tried asking for advice from one of the MDs that knew the client better. He offered to come up to us and break up the conversation if the client approached me, which actually also helped.
He also gave me some less good advice.
The advice was that I should try making up a boyfriend that I could slip into the conversation. I was single at the time and didn’t have the luxury to mention a real boyfriend.
This works well if it’s a client you don’t see that often, and who doesn’t know anything personal about you. Then they’ll usually back off.
Otherwise, I don’t like the thought of making up an entire fake life including this fake boyfriend. I mean, should I start posting pictures of me with my fake boyfriend on Instagram, or buy myself a fake diamond ring and pretend he has proposed? I wouldn’t do it if I would have to pretend to more than one person.
Also, it’s obviously not fair that you need to go to those lengths just to be left alone to do they hob you’re there for.
What if you want to say yes?
Turning down a client who wants to date you can be tricky, but what if you don’t want to?
This could be a minefield, but sometimes, we meet the person of our dreams through work. What do we do if we want to say yes?
Consider this: What kind of client is he? Are you currently working on a project together? Then I’d say wait. Otherwise, you need to be extremely careful.
Either one of you may break some internal rules, and dating a client you work with, isn’t going to look good. Wait until you’re done with the deal, or see if one of you can move out of the deal team.
If you’re not currently working on a deal, and he or she is just a client you see on the occasional industry events, then feel free to say yes.
When it becomes serious, try to mention it to colleagues so they are aware of it, but you shouldn’t get into any trouble.
A lot of couples work within the same industry, and I know tonnes of couples where one of them work for a company that is a client of the other person’s firm. Mostly, people would think it’s positive, since you may be able to bring some gossip back to the office.
If you end up working on a deal after you started dating, mention it to your boss so he or she won’t feel like you’re hiding anything. And keep any personal drama to yourself. No pouting or complaining if you’re quarreling or breaking up.