Sometimes, poo happens.
How we navigate through that poo to success is what defines us as business leaders and good client managers. I once had an email with the line, “Never in my 18 years of experience…” Needless to say, it triggered some Hulk-like switches. Conflict is an inevitable part of relationships, but it can be viewed as collaborative instead of adversarial. Craft your conversations to ensure your clients feel heard by acknowledging their concerns. We are all human. Sometimes we say the wrong thing. Sometimes we don’t realize we say something hurtful, or things are misunderstood. We have bad days when we are more sensitive, and we must manage our emotions as good advocates for clients. But we must never appear angry at our clients.
When things aren’t going smoothly, we need four things:
Empathy – Listen First
Allow your clients to understand what goes into the project. Give them time to ask their questions. Clarify their needs before you work on the next milestone.
Taking the time to listen to your client’s concerns sounds simple but is sometimes overlooked if we assume we already know what our client wants.
“Approach the situation with genuine curiosity. Seek to understand your client’s perspective. Acknowledge and validate their concerns. Finally, resist the urge to defend. Most people want to feel listened to and understood. Provide that opportunity by allowing your client to vent without interruption. It may be difficult to hear opinions you disagree with but it’s a necessary first step.” – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC
Kindness – Unconditional Positivity
Empathy and kindness go hand in hand. My first rule when dealing with difficult situations: Never call them nightmare clients. Our words have power and shift the way we view them.
Practice unconditional, positive regard for each client. Difficult clients are still people. They might be challenging because of other issues, like feeling unheard or misunderstood. Always approach your clients with an unconditional, positive regard to create a space for honest, nonjudgmental conversations.
Humility – Digging for Issue
Aim to understand the real issue at hand. We all communicate differently, and sometimes we hear “x” when they said “y”. Go through all angles of the problem and all decisions or feedback made so far to bring you both on the same page. Engage them in the solution to problem-solve together. A little digging into the issue can often transform a problematic client into a loyal advocate.
Courage – Name the Elephant in the Room – Quickly
If you sense something is “off,” it can be best to bring it up before it becomes a problem. Simply state what you notice: “I notice that there seems to be tension”,”we seem to be getting off track”, or “we seem less aligned.”
“Saying what you notice opens the door to the conversation without judgment. The goal is to learn more and see what’s really going on. You can’t change something if you don’t know what it is.” – Susan Sadler, Sadler Communications LLC
If you are feeling frustrated, I recommend a few tips:
- Write the email you want to write. Leave the To: field empty. Get it ALL out.
- Go on a walk. Take a break. Give yourself the space to calm down. If you need a day, respond to them when you are in a good place.
- Do something that brings you joy. This might be exercise, going to a movie, and so on. Find something else to distract yourself from the moment so you can come back to the issue refreshed.
Whenever you’re dealing with people, there’s bound to be conflict. Honing your communication and conflict management skills takes time and practice. It takes strength to get to a positive outcome gracefully. Your past experience with clients, both good and bad, will transform you as a business leader. With each project, you have the opportunity to improve yourself and your business.