Difficult Client? Try these Quick Tips

Your hands are sweating; your stomach is in knots. Once again you have a client who has become truly obnoxious. Somehow they are driving you crazy. If you say left, they say right. The hiring honeymoon is over and now you see that your client is – believe it or not – a difficult person.

Part of your challenge is that your attachment to the outcome of this conversation is both financial and relationship based. Oh and it is tied to money, wait did I already say that? Well which one of you is NOT in business to MAKE MONEY?

And what about being respected for your knowledge and your expertise and I’m sorry, dare I say it, what about your ego? How can this person, this client go ahead and hire you to do something and then turnaround and not listen to you or disregard your advice or even worse, ask for your input and then do the exact opposite? I mean really, WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?

Yet, you know that your reputation either attracts or repels new clients. You know that your ability to get along well with your clients is a strong component of your professional reputation. I would suggest that most of the burden of making this relationship work resides with you. What is a consultant to do?

It is not likely that your difficult client will change for you, but you can change the way the two of you interact. You can take more control of the situation and work towards a positive outcome. In order to do that, I must ask you to do something. Let go of your attachment to finances and if applicable, put your ego aside. When you let money and ego drive the situation, it shows. If you let your concern for your working relationship take charge you are on your way to a positive outcome.

Once you are ready to speak to them consider this approach:

  • Prepare for the conversation in advance. Identify what you hope to gain from the interaction and begin with this end in mind.
  • Be flexible; do not be so focused on your end goal that you cannot take a detour in the conversation. This detour may help you understand the perspective of your difficult person.
  • Select a time that is convenient to both of you. A time when you can both can listen and exchange information without additional pressures or distractions.
  • Listen; really listen to what they are saying. If they say something like, ‘I cannot do that’ or ‘That will not work’; ask them why. Whatever issue they have may not be about you. Try to get the real problem out in the open.
  • Maintain emotional objectivity. Remember, whatever drives them to be difficult is about them, not about you.
  • An individual who is upset may become defensive and verbally attack you. Stay calm, take a deep breath and pause before responding.

If the discussion gets too heated, recommend that you both take some time to cool off. Then agree upon a time when you will reconvene. No matter how difficult, deal with the situation. Agree to stick with the situation until you have both been able to understand one another. You do not have to agree, but you want to work toward a relationship where you can respect each other as individuals and professionals.