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November 27, 2013

WorkWise: Working wisely with toxic vendors

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

You’re repelled by the 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.” A relationship expert and author, Moody has written and spoken on the impact of toxic relationships in the workplace

Tron Jordheim is the CMO at StorageMart LLP in Columbia, Mo., which rents self-storage facilities in 135 locations in North America. “We use a lot of vendors in marketing, construction, operations and HR,” 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.”

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

“Toxic vendors are extremely difficult to work with,” reports Emad Rahim, chief learning officer and diversity consultant at Global i365 LLC, headquartered in Dewitt, N.Y. “They over-promise, 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 encountered other scenarios, such as a client requiring a specific person, a signed contract or an otherwise perfect established vendor who can facilitate you in opening 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, according to Jordheim, and you may be unable to find it elsewhere.


So, you’ve decided not to drop these vendors. Now what? “Prepare to manage,” advises Jordheim.

Moody says that 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 not to establish boundaries and to sacrifice your values.

Jordheim says to set the 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 down the rude expert, he suggests, and be direct, bringing structure to the communication: “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, ‘Okay. I’m going to stop you right there,’” Jordheim comments. “‘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

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