Business start-ups that are still building a client portfolio can rarely afford to drop difficult accounts. Many clients take advantage of this situation and try to bully their way through a project. They may have unreasonable demands or deadlines, or (plain and simple) be pains-in-the-you-know-what.
Here are some tips for dealing with difficult clients: negotiating with them, becoming more aware and in control of your own feelings and frustrations, and turning the whole thing into a win-win scenario.
1. Issues vs. Personalities
There are two kinds of office conflict: issues, and the other over personalities. Put simply, issues would find you arguing over procedures and results; personality conflicts, however, may push you in the ring simply because you ‘hate each other’s guts.’ It isn’t always easy to tell them apart. Ask the following questions:
a. Do I dislike the other person or get frustrated with him/her?
b. Do I see the other person as untrustworthy and undeserving of respect?
c. Is my emotional reaction to the conflict appropriate?
d. Do I really want to ‘win’?
When you have sorted out your own feelings you can listen to the other person’s concerns without being distracted by your biases. Listening defuses emotional situations, which get in the way of resolving the matter at hand.
2. Meet on neutral ground.
Sometimes small conflicts and disagreements create a snowball effect, slowly getting bigger and more explosive because of accumulated frustration and miscommunication.
The key is to focus. History is history; deal with current problems only, and clearly identify the problem to be solved at meeting agendas (check these tips for holding successful meetings). If there are multiple, simultaneous issues, list what you need to discuss or resolve but fix it one at a time.
Then, meet in a neutral location (your office, or your client’s office, can all have ‘territorial’ associations). It’s best to talk at a table; psychologically, you can both preserve each other’s personal space and feel less intimidated by the other person’s body language.
3. Don’t avoid the problem
Acknowledging the problem paves the way for a mutually beneficial solution. You may open the discussion with a statement such as, ‘I understand there is a concern,’ or ‘I believe there may be a problem we can work out together.’
4. Get the other’s perspective.
Ask for the other person’s perception of the situation or most pressing need. Then allow time for concerns and feelings to be expressed. Don’t interrupt, but don’t let things get emotional and out of hand, other. Be specific and try to limit the discussion to concrete things that can be solved. For example, if your client says, ‘Your people are incompetent!’ ask, ‘What scenarios made you feel that way? What kind of services did you feel we didn’t provide?’
5. Find a common ground.
Align by emphasizing mutual positive intent, for example, by saying, ‘Do you think we might be able to work together to build a more effective team?’ or ‘What can we both do to avoid miscommunication?’
Add by pointing out what you have in common and the strengths your people and company can bring to the account. ‘I see that you are unhappy with the delays, but are satisfied with the quality of our work. We do have a very creative team, but we will look into improving our account servicing, and what we can do to improve turnaround time.’