In addition to guest posting on the UpCity blog, Digitech Web Design is featured as one of the Top Digital Marketing Agencies in the United States. Check out their profile!
Wouldn’t our lives be so much easier if we all landed the “perfect” clients? Those clients that love every recommendation you make, work with you instead of against you to complete a project, and are enjoyable to interact with. I think we can all agree that having a dream job would entail having client interactions that are easy, effortless, and pleasurable. Unfortunately, however, this is oftentimes not the reality in the business world. While we can still land the ideal clients, the truth is that more times than not we are faced with clients that can tax our emotional and mental capacities. So how do we mitigate the effect that these clients have on our own sanity and well-being? How do we continue to have successful interactions with difficult clients without sacrificing our own core values?
DIGITECH, a website and development firm that works with clients ranging from startup businesses to Fortune 500 companies, is no stranger to the world of managing difficult clients. Because each client brings with them their own value system, internal politics, and challenges with them, we have implemented very targeted strategies to handle difficult situations so that we can successfully complete projects while maintaining a cohesive work relationship with our clients. This strategy did not develop overnight. In fact, it took many years of trial and error and learning what it takes to keep clients happy without sacrificing our integrity and sanity, to come up with this successful strategy. Through all of this research and a massive learning curve, we were able to develop some key principles that help us to thrive in the midst of some difficult clients. Here are the top principles we find most helpful when dealing with challenging clients.
Yes, you probably have heard integrity mentioned more times than you can count. From business seminars to employee handbooks and office posters, you have most likely already come to believe that integrity is a core principle that every business owner and employee should possess. However, just because you see this “catchy” word displayed everywhere and talked about even more obsessively, do you really know what this word encompasses? What exactly does it mean to operate from a place of integrity?
The truth of the matter is that you’ve probably been blamed for a project failure even if you feel you did nothing wrong to deserve the accusation. Or, maybe the accusation was partially or completely true and the project failure was your fault. How do you make sure that your side of the street is clean? Or better yet, how can you prevent or mitigate the accusations from destroying your inner peace? You guessed it: you need to possess integrity.
The definition of integrity is: “the state of being whole and undivided.” This means that if you made decisions that resulted in a project failure, you will be internally divided because you will subconsciously know that you contributed to the problem. This even includes overselling your capabilities or taking on projects that you know are outside your skill set. You will know if you are being internally divided if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or any other distressing emotions that do not produce good fruit in your life or work. Therefore, to mitigate these feelings from arising you will need to establish the core value of integrity within your business. You will need to start making decisions based on this core value instead of greed. This way you can listen to the accusations but remain at peace because you will know that the accusations are a result of their company’s dynamic or personal issues and not your faulty decision making.
We incorporate integrity into our business practices by not selling projects that stretch past our capabilities and instead refer those clients out to another company that may be a better fit for their needs. It may seem like you will be losing out on resources by doing this but the truth is that you will be gaining so much more as a result. Money can’t buy the peace of mind you get from the integrity you embody.
Understand The “Why”
Challenging clients bring with them their own challenges and troubles. As such, we have learned to pause in the midst of conflict and search for the “why” factor. Why is this client acting a certain way? What is the driving factor for the client’s behavior or outburst? More times than not the client’s reaction has very little, if nothing, to do with the project at hand. Instead, the client is most likely reacting from their own personal issues. While the emotions they are projecting onto you may still cause you distress in the moment, learning how to discern what’s really going on with the outburst will help you defuse difficult situations and cultivate an inner state of peace.
We recently worked on a project where we needed to develop the understanding and compassion needed to discern the “why”. We had a client who continuously did not show up for our scheduled meetings. Every time we would finally have the opportunity to speak with the client, we could sense that she was stressed and overwhelmed. To get to the heart of the matter, we decided to put our empathic theory to the test and ask targeted questions about project pain points and such. After a few minutes, the client opened up and said that she was in the middle of dealing with troubles at home and was feeling overwhelmed with managing the project. Once you understand the client’s “why” for acting a certain way, you now have the capability to bring a solution to the problem.
Validate and Empathize
One of the best ways you can connect to another human being is to validate their emotions, especially the negative ones. An article in the Harvard Business Review has a powerful method for effectively defusing negativity. The writer mentions a three-step process that includes:
- Understanding and validating the client’s feelings. You don’t need to agree or justify the negativity but instead simply show them that you understand how they feel.
- Find common ground to agree with them on. You don’t have to accept everything they say but try sympathizing with some of what they are feeling.
- Reinforce what they are positive about. This doesn’t mean you should persuade them to think more positively. Instead, the idea here is to give positive attention to any positive feelings they may have. This gives them concrete hope because it’s based on positive feelings they already have, not feelings you think they should have.
By applying this three-step process you will be giving your client the ability to relax and open up while also showing them that you support them. It is through setting down your defensive posture and instead moving into a place of connection that you will begin to soften the situation and make finding a resolution much easier. You are, in actuality, transforming a downward spiraling client into an upward, more positive one.
When you begin a client relationship by establishing integrity, empathy, and validation, you will be able to defuse any challenging circumstances that come your way. Not only will you have the peace of mind to handle difficult situations, you will also create a lasting bond between you and your clients.