We all have cases where things hit the rough with a client and relationships threaten to go spiraling downwards. You will always have “difficult” clients or difficult episodes with otherwise reasonable clients.
Managing professional relationships (just as managing personal relationships) is primarily about dealing with conflict in a constructive manner. If you’re at your wits’ end about how to deal with a difficult client, here are five ways to help you in the right direction.
1. Understand their point of view.
Everybody has a frame of reference they are operating within. You know yours but do you know that of the other person(s) involved? Don’t just assume you do, make sure that you do.
Trying to genuinely understand where the other person is coming from generally has a disarming effect on people because (at least in my experience) few take the trouble to do so.
Ask focused questions, but in a gentle manner. Hearing people out, and really listening to what they are saying, is the best way to understand their point of view. This will accomplish two important things – a) they will calm down, and b) you will understand what the problem is really about.
It costs absolutely nothing to make the other person feel heard. If you give them all your attention and make them heard, you are likely to have a very receptive client.
2. Focus on a mutually beneficial solution.
When you speak in a language which appeals to the other person’s sense of interest, they will warm up to you. In academic terms this is referred to as interest-based relational approach towards conflict resolution.
All too often when we are caught up in a tricky situation it’s easy to feel victimized, misunderstood, or misheard. As if the other person only cares about their part of the deal and not yours, which may well be true. But if you are to forge ahead with a solution, you are going to have to stop feeling victimized and instead think proactively about a solution that would benefit you and the client.
This is important, since any manipulation or dishonesty here will likely not pass muster with the client, and if they were to do that to you, the same would apply.
3. Be cognizant of your own biases.
We tend to snap at people when we are reaching our breaking point. That call you received at 10 last night from an irate client half-way across the world isn’t likely to put you in a good mood, but is very likely to make you think or say something that you shouldn’t.
Our tipping point varies depending on a number of factors, but we all have one. The newer businessmen may experience it earlier than the seasoned ones.
The key here is to be aware of what is affecting your own take on the situation.
- What exactly is annoying you about this client?
- Are you making any assumptions based on their history?
- Are any cultural prejudices at work?
- Do you not tend to like this type of personality anyway?
- Have you been burned badly in the past in a similar situation and are wary of giving them the benefit of doubt?
We all have biases and past impressions affecting our view at any given point. It helps to be aware of them and deal with them first, rather than let them affect our equation with a client.
4. Be specific in your solutions.
Vague promises, especially when you have not met your targets, will only add fuel to the fire. Instead, draw up a timeline and spell out by when you will fix the problem (if you’re the one who messed up). And then do it!
5. Be willing to let go.
Desperation can make you do strange things and ruin your confidence in the process. Desperation is also easily sensed by others and moves the balance of power away from you, which is unlikely to yield positive results. While you should do everything in your power to hold on to a good client, don’t become desperate in the process, and certainly don’t do so at the expense of your own staff.
Instead, focus on the pointers above and execute them to the best of your ability. If nothing works, be willing to let go. As long as your business model is sound and you approach your work practically and ethically, you will keep getting new clients.