Playing Nice With a Difficult Client
Question: How do I keep a cool head and turn around a difficult client relationship?
Ah yes, difficult client relationships. Is it you? Is it them?
That’s the first question to ask when faced with a challenging situation. And the answer, usually, is “both.”
Two to Tango
When there’s a problem – whether it’s business-related, personal or something else – everyone plays a role. So the first step is to tease out which part is your responsibility and which part is theirs. To do this, you must keep a cool head and, for creative professionals who tend to lean toward emotion, this calls first and foremost for restraint. Don’t react out of emotion or impulse – that way, you won’t do or say anything you’ll regret.
A few more questions to ask before you do or say anything:
- Is it a bad fit?
- Did you miss a red flag?
- Is this a personality problem or a project problem?
- How important is this client/relationship/project?
- What would the client say the problem is?
As for how to turn around a difficult client relationship, that’s a bit more complicated and not completely within your control. But if you want to work it out, you often can. So first ask yourself if you really want to and, if you do, why.
Is it because you need the money, or because it’s a long-term client you don’t want to lose, or because it’s exactly the kind of work you love? Whatever the reason, get clear on your intentions before you do anything.
Once you’ve cooled down and clarified things for yourself, it’s time to take action. Usually a conversation will begin to smooth things out. But do it in real time, not via email, keeping in mind the following guidelines:
- Start by acknowledging your responsibility. It takes some of the heat off the situation.
- Focus on what you can control. Make suggestions about how to change things you can change.
- Do a lot of listening. Listen for underlying issues. Try to keep your distance and stay as objective and empathetic as possible.
- Don’t fight. Instead, look for the openings in the other person’s point of view. Look for where he or she may be willing to bend. Then guide him or her that way.
Keep in mind that it’s not people who are difficult – but relationships can be. It’s the dynamic between people that makes an interaction either difficult or harmonious. To prove this, you have simply to watch someone you perceive as difficult relating to other people. It’s unlikely he or she has trouble with absolutely everyone.
So what is it about his or her relationship with you that causes the problem? This is what you need to determine before you can fix it.
Ilise Benun is an author, consultant and national speaker, the founder of Marketing Mentor.com and the co-producer of the Creative Freelancer Conference. Her books include "The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing (HOW Books), “Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive” (Career Press), and her latest, The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money (HOW Books 2011). Marketing Mentor
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