How To Deal With Disrespectful Sellers Who Act Like They’re Your Boss

by | Negotiation

Have you ever hired someone to work on a project for you and then they started acting like they were the one in charge?

Well, the main way to deal with these characters is to switch them from “power up” to “power down”.

Here’s your quick guide to dealing with sellers who start acting like assholes, starting with a case study from Lucio Buffalmano.

#1. The seller who’s a tough-talking weakling

Harsh words, I know, but read on to find out why it fits.

The quick background is that I have an atypical, hands-off style of working with contractors.

I hire them and explain what to do, but then don’t follow their work much.

If they’re starting late, I rarely chase them or ask what’s up. There is no real need to because it’s a project open with an escrow service, so the money is not released directly to them, it’s not like they can run away.

And if they’re simply late, I don’t mind.

If they have any questions, I expect them to ask.

Unless the website is down, everything I do for me is “non-urgent”, so I see no need to use my time to chase a delivery because a few days earlier or later make no difference (the “chasing” and “constant poke” attitude reek of neuroticism to me).

If they request to extend the timeline, I almost always accept without questions.

And, all of this leads to interesting situations.

The great guys enjoy working with me. But, some other people I hire confuse my “hands off” approach for being “low-power”, them having “total freedom”, and working with a “sucker”.

And, because of that, those guys feel like they can do anything.

A designer I recently hired to style a newsletter page was:

  • Starting late
  • Doing a terrible design job
  • Damage other areas of the website (of course the mistake here was on me to give access to the live website)
  • Deliver late

And the worst ones that truly tipped the scale:

  • Blame the website for his mistakes (saying “the website is a mess”)
  • Proposing a bigger job to “fix the website” (something that felt super manipulative to me)

Power-up talk: the asshole

Some people confuse “accommodating” for “weakness”.

And what do they do?

They start acting like assholes.

Look how he talks the second time he asks for an extended delivery.

And keep in mind the context. This was:

  • After he was late and doing a bad design-wise job
  • After had already damaged the website
  • After I had to chase him to halt everything he was doing and revert immediately
  • After he was trying to pitch me bigger work shit instead of immediately fixing a major website-wide issue

Him: I have already sorted out the problem (note: it’s the problem HE created while experimenting on a live website and without backing it up, a huge no-no for any kindergarte-level developer)so please cooperate by extending the delivery time.

HE needs a favor and he messed up.

He’s in a value-negative hole, both pragmatically and reputation-wise.
He should make up for both by apologizing—maybe even proposing a discount or additional value—and showing better credentials to keep working on a live website.

And instead, he brushes off his errors, implies he can keep on working on it despite his terrible track record, and tasks me as if he were in a position of higher power.

Instead, I:

  • Log him out
  • Change his password
  • Do NOT accept his second extension
  • Make him wait when he asks what’s going on
  • Tell him we’re not working together anymore

That abruptly changes the power dynamics.

Not only do I send the message that I’m personally no pushover, but the next, more coercive tools at my disposal also start becoming more “real” in his mind—namely, not releasing the money and leaving a bad review.

Power-down talk: enter, the “weakling”

Now look how the tune changes:

*Fiverr profile information redacted for privacy.

Him: Please allow me, “may I sir”

To me, this guy is not only a poor designer, but also a turkey, a low-level manipulator, and a bitch.

If you use your power-up time to treat others poorly and then revert to supplicating power-down, you communicate that:

  • You’re an asshole: deep down you truly are an asshole (the type that is all nice outside the house but then beats up the submissive wife who has no other option) BUT
  • You’re also a brown-noser: when confronted with a higher-power individual, you immediately change to obsequious and ultra-sweet
  • You’re also a bitch: whenever your pay and reviews are at stake, you have no qualms about throwing away all honor and self-respect.

The worst mix possible.

This type of “bitch behavior” of course is part of power, status, etc.

And, this is only one example of going from tough-talking to begging. But, there are more.

For this next example, we’ll see a case study from Ali with another Fiverr seller who goes from “power-up” talk to completely changing tact when power-down.

#2. The seller who’s too comfortable in the business relationship

Ali here now, and the quick background on this one is that Lucio contributed to back when the site was in its beginning stages and author profile pages hadn’t been built yet.

So, I rehired a web designer I enjoyed working with to have him take on the project.

We’d been working together well up to that point, even to where he would casually use fun emojis others might consider “unprofessional” (but it was all in good fun).

Unfortunately, however, it started to seem that he was getting a little too comfortable in our relationship and was mistaking my friendly, accommodating attitude for “weakness” and “low-power”.

He was:

  • Starting late
  • Doing an incomplete design job
  • Sending messages meant for other people (and then laughing it off with emojis)
  • Delivering late

Power-up talk: the “unofficial boss”

Once again, similar to Lucio’s case, he needs a favor and he messed up. He’s in a value-negative hole and should be apologizing and making it up to me.

Instead, he brushes off his errors, implies he can keep on working on it despite his declining track record, and tasks me as if he were in a position of higher power.

I tried to send him a message to clarify what he was asking, not realizing that by sending the message Fiverr also automatically approves the extended delivery (a major design flaw, in my opinion):

And yet, he still doesn’t give a “thank you” (as if he’s entitled to my favor) or an apology for his mistakes.

So, I give him an order back to give me a new delivery date. Instead, he ignores me by only giving me updates on his progress.

Then, he comes back and gives me a new order instead:

I draw the line:

And, more boundary drawing was to come.

But, not before this seller made a few more mistakes.

Remember the text the web designer wanted me to type into the chat for him so he could simply copy/paste it? This is it:

“Don’t Know Where To Start?”, “Start Here,” and only one sentence.

Also, it felt like I had to tell him how to do his job on this because he didn’t think creating this box was even possible:

So, it seemed like he was:

  • Becoming lazy
  • Making me do some of the work for him (by answering questions he should have the answer to)
  • Becoming a non-thinking web designer

Quoting Lucio here:

Lucio: “People get used to a certain baseline behavior.

If you’ve always passive and start being assertive, they might over-interpret your new resolve—plus, many folks want you to remain passive.

And if you’ve always been aggressive, they might feel like you’re not really 100% behind what you say.

But it’s them who has to re-adapt, not you. You’re upgrading yourself, so stay the course.”

It seemed like this web designer had gotten accustomed to my accommodating attitude and started to view me as low-power. So, the best way to resolve this was by maintaining assertiveness until he re-adapts and starts viewing me as higher power.

And, that’s exactly what I did.

After creating the box in the web design, he comes back and says it’s finished. But, it was incomplete, so I addressed it:

The issue is, he views this message as only a reminder. He doesn’t know that I actually tested the box to make sure it was permanent and realized it was only temporary.

So, he quickly fixes it, and then lies implying that it was always permanent:

From that point forward—without me even having to say anything—he was careful to add “now” whenever he made an adjustment after my feedback was given. (Again, people get used to a certain baseline behavior, so he was probably still expecting me to be a “hands-off” client and didn’t think I’d check his work.)

Even so, more boundary drawing was necessary because of how far things had gotten:

After this message, he blames the constant mistakes on Fiverr and, rather than apologizing or proposing a way to make up for his value-taking, implies that these things happen when one is working on a “very tough job”.

So, I agree with him and still redirect to my boundaries:

Power-down talk: enter, the “guilty seller”

I say “guilty” in the sense that he was in the wrong and was now finally taking action to make up for it.

He was:

  • Completing revisions fully and within the same day (sometimes getting to it in a mere couple of hours)
  • Accepting added work I put on his plate for free and with full cooperation
  • Communicating with me fairly and respectfully (no more power-up “boss talk”)

(BONUS) Strategy: the “Take the Arm” Approach

Allowing (or baiting) people to “take the arm” can be a good strategy to assess people.

Sometimes, starting off with a more giver and lower-power attitude is not necessarily a bad approach for the beginning of the relationship.

It can be a very good approach to filter out those who will take advantage of you, and those with whom you can establish a safer longer-term win-win (and, potentially, also turn it into a friendship or a closer business collaboration).

It’s how Lucio acted with his website’s current developer, and not only did he not take advantage of it, but he improved the delivery. They don’t discuss pricing anymore, Lucio just tells him what he needs and then the seller sends the quote:


There’s more than one right way to handle a case with a bad seller. But, as with anything, the best first step is prevention.

So, a good general framework to follow with new sellers is to:

  1. Give them enough space to show their true character in the beginning
  2. Observe their behavior
  3. Correctly identify any negative changes, games, and power moves
  4. Correct the power moves
  5. Filter out the manipulators, cheats, and assholes
  6. Keep the honest collaborators

About The Author

About The Author