angry250If you’re a consultant, or a freelance professional like a web designer, independent trainer or graphic designer, you will have encountered your share of ‘difficult’ clients. Here are some tips for dealing with them and getting problems resolved.

1. Deal with client problems face to face
Email is a terrible medium for dealing with issues with emotion attached, because it is so easy to misinterpret. Deal with emotionally loaded problems in a face to face meeting, or at the very least Skype or phone call.

2. Keep the right mindset
When meeting your client, maintain a strong, centered emotional state. Project confidence but not arrogance. Have the attitude that the client has given you valuable feedback about a problem that you are going to solve together.

3. Actively listen to the client
Ask “What do we need to change?” or “Could you outline the problem?” – and listen, rather than arguing or trying to guess what they are going to say.

4. Reflect back what the client is saying
Summarise and reflect back what the client has said to show them they have been heard, so they don’t need to keep repeating their point. It also helps you check your understanding. Use a basic structure of “You feel ______ because ______” but put ‘softeners’ around it as appropriate.

5. Move to a solution
Outline the actions you are going to take to solve the problem (if you understand what they want) or ask the client what they want you to do to resolve the problem.

6. Take action
Make sure you do what you said you were going to do, and let the client know when you have done it.

7. Support each other
You don’t have to go it alone. Talking about problems in a solution-focused way with your colleagues keeps them in proportion. If you’re a solo professional, find other people in your industry who you can talk to.

And here are some tips for preventing client problems before they start:

1. Do good work
This seems obvious, but make sure that what you produce is good not just by your standards, but that it works for the client too. To do this, see the next tip:

2. Put yourself in your client’s shoes
Look at your work through the client’s eyes. Respect their time. What can you do to make your client’s life easier and add value or remove obstacles for them?

3. Be trustworthy
If you want your client to trust you, the most important thing  you can do is be worthy of that trust. Keep your word and deliver on your promises. With new clients, build trust by setting small milestones and completing them.

4. Have clear boundaries
Make it clear at the outset what the scope of your work is, when you are available and when you are not, and agree a procedure for how additional requests will be handled.

What’s your best tip for dealing with ‘difficult’ clients? Leave a comment below…

How To Deal With Difficult Clients

One thought on “How To Deal With Difficult Clients

  • Hi Andy,

    I’d add Sticking With The Facts here too. It’s easy to let emotion cloud your thinking and to let judgements creep in about what behaviours and actions displayed by the client might mean, when in fact all you can really address is the facts and the observable behaviour.

    I think it’s also useful to Separate the Person from the Situation. By that I mean forget what the client means to you in terms of revenue and kudos and just do the right thing, for them and for you, again based on the facts of the situation, not how you feel. I guess its acting with integrity and not sucking up!

    I think difficult client situations are only difficult because we attribute meaning to them, and that piles on a whole heap of feeling and emotion. So then, we’re not just dealing with the facts of the matter, we’re dealing with our emotions too….and that makes it unnecessarily complex. I’m discovering that every situation is ‘inert,’ it’s only when we give it context and attach meaning that it has power.

    I totally agree with your Mindset point. I recently read a great point in Garret Kramer’s book, Stillpower. He says, “A person’s state of mind will always determine one’s ability to regulate urges. When one’s state of mind is low, a person is not capable of seeing life clearly and is prone to serious lapses in judgement and acting on impulse.”

    And my favourite piece of advice from your list above, is the one about Put Yourself In The Clients Shoes. I’ve played around with this quite a lot and find that there’s a couple of levels to it. Some step into their clients shoes and walk around in them but they are still themselves, just wearing a pair of ill fitting shoes. Others step in to their clients shoes and become like their client. That’s when the results can be startling.

    Great post Andy, thank you. Love your practical approach!

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