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A career in film is all about relationships coming together to create something great. But how can you exit toxic business relationships with grace?

It’s not you, it’s me: How to end toxic business relationships

A career in film is all about relationships. Unless you’re Anna Biller, you need to rely on a team to help construct your fantasies and capture them on celluloid. And for every amazing relationship you foster over the years, there can be a toxic one that seems to exist only to throw a spanner in your perfectly planned works.

Today in Craft, we talk about how to exit a toxic relationship with grace. If you need a few tips about how to make great relationships from the get-go, read our piece on creative partnerships.

How to spot a toxic relationship

A toxic partner or client is a person whose expectations are far higher than their budget, time limit or understanding can meet. Remember that not all toxic relationships come from bad people – in fact, many of my most toxic working relationships have been with friends.

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Be afraid – be very afraid – if your associate exhibits these warning signs

  • Your downtime is yours, but your toxic associate doesn’t recognize or care about that. They call, text, and email you after-hours, demanding immediate responses and becoming hostile when they don’t get them.
  • Your associate makes demands far outside of the scope of your agreement.
  • Rude behavior is also a huge red flag. If an associate becomes argumentative or aggressive, that simply crosses the line of any business arrangement. This includes behaving in a rude or unprofessional manner to a team, business partners, or family while you’re around. Just because you’re not the target of their boorish behavior doesn’t make it any less unacceptable.
  • Speaking of inappropriate behavior, it’s also a dealbreaker if an associate makes sexually charged comments or tells offensive jokes that make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Respect is a huge factor in the film industry. If an associate magically appears at your home or office without an appointment in sight and demands to see you: no, just no.
  • It goes without saying that it’s incredibly unprofessional and disrespectful if your associate is consistently late with payments (without good reason), or delays them based on metrics which were not agreed upon beforehand.
  • Another clear sign of professional disrespect: your associate has requested your  “expert” opinion but inserts unqualified anecdotes into meetings.

Welcome to dumpsville, population them

Sometimes, things become so toxic they’re irreparable. If this happens and you no longer believe you can communicate with an associate in a professional manner, request that they speak with an assistant or a partner to create a buffer. Give your toxic associate three chances to be trained. If nothing seems to be getting through to them, then your relationship may be past redemption.

Once you acknowledge this, you have no choice but to leave. Furthermore, always genuinely be willing to walk away from any associate relationship. I find the time and emotional energy saved by dumping a toxic associate always produces a better bottom line for my business (not to mention the personal benefits of reduced stress, etc.).

Handy tips for severing a working relationship while maintaining mutual goodwill

First, you must finish all your outstanding projects – or, if your associate is truly intolerable, settle up financially. Second, arrange a date to break up with your associate and make sure you stick to it. You owe it to yourself to create a healthy work-life.

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Third, communicate the breakup to your toxic partner. There are at least two ways to do this:

  1. If you think your toxic associate can learn from this experience, tell them the reasons why you can no longer work/partner/hang with them by – as always, calmly and professionally– outlining the behaviors which you found toxic. By phone or face-to-face is always by far the best way to do this. (In other words, tweeting publicly or text messages are not advised.)
  2. If you feel the previous approach would be showing a red rag to a bull, send them a firm but fair email stating you are moving in a new direction and you can no longer work/partner/hang with them.

Finally, if you work in somewhat of a vacuum, e.g. as a copywriter working from home, you can very easily begin to believe your associates and blame yourself for any miscommunications or pushbacks. All associates are film business people just like you. Associates may have tunnel vision; they want the best for their career – sometimes at the cost of the happiness of the people who help them.

Remember your value, remember your strengths, and remember that you are an expert. A toxic relationship today will probably remain a toxic relationship tomorrow. Have the strength to cut ties to these nasty, incompetent, or disrespectful associates, and choose to reward yourself with working partnerships dictated by strong boundaries.

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