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How to deal with difficult clients

dealing with difficult clients
By Rachel Dalrymple, Last Updated September 18, 2023

At some point, every company will have to deal with a difficult client. Despite your best efforts to be respectful and communicative, some clients are just difficult to please. Or maybe they’re just having a bad day. Either way, it can be stressful to deal with.

While the stress of working with challenging clients keeps some people up at night, if you know how to manage the situation, you’ll become a pro at navigating those difficult client relationships. Developing the ability to work with difficult people could be the thing that lets your business pull ahead of the competition and lead you to long-term success. 

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How to deal with difficult clients

Following these strategies will make your life easier and allow you to turn unhappy customers into satisfied clients.

Start the client relationship off right by setting clear expectations

Clear expectations should be a major focus of every business partnership. To avoid misunderstandings and ensure connections with clients run smoothly, it’s important to establish those expectations from the very beginning. Have a conversation early on to ensure everyone is on the same page. Go over the scope of your work and what each party can expect from the other. 

Before you begin working on a project with a client, everyone should be aware of details like time constraints, deadlines, preferred methods of communication, and how often you’ll meet with each other. Be sure to discuss specific measurables for success you can use to track progress, so you’ll be able to clearly evaluate whether or not you’re meeting expectations. 

It’s a good idea to establish when the next meeting will be during your first meeting, so you know when your next conversation will be. Decide what you hope to accomplish before that meeting so you can bring results to the table. 

Build rapport to make dealing with conflict easier

Remember that conflict is sometimes necessary for success. Often, conflict is a sign that both parties feel comfortable enough to speak openly, which can be a sign of a good partnership. However, the key is knowing how to work through the issue and come out stronger because of it. 

You can make it less stressful to resolve conflict with clients by building rapport. When you have a personal connection, both parties will understand that there is mutual respect, despite disagreements. 

To build that kind of connection, ask about hobbies, family, or goals. If you can find something in common with the client, you might find it becomes increasingly enjoyable to work with them. You’ll become more familiar with each other’s communication styles, which will make it easier to approach difficult conversations.

If it’s possible, set up a time to meet face to face, even if the majority of your communication will be virtual. Meeting in person allows you to read body language and better understand clients’ personalities and needs.

Listen to negative feedback with an open mind

It’s easy to get frustrated when client feedback is consistently negative. While many people dismiss overly negative people as biased and unreasonable, the client’s perspective (even an unhappy client) can be an invaluable resource for you to learn from. 

Often, challenging clients are more than willing to point out every weakness in your business. While it may be frustrating to hear frequent complaints, listen to the client’s concerns and use them to your advantage. Sometimes the feedback will be unreasonable, but keep an open mind. It’s possible they’ll bring up issues you can really improve on.

Even if the client’s expectations are unreasonable, if you listen with respect to what they have to say, you’ll make sure they feel heard. This simple action can make all the difference in improving the relationship. And, even if you can’t solve all their problems right now, you may get some ideas about possible customer pain points that you could address in the future. 

Manage emotions with professionalism

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your feelings, where they’re coming from, and what to do with them. You won’t always get along perfectly with clients, and that’s okay. Understanding how to manage your emotions when dealing with difficult clients is an essential skill. 

When you learn to manage your feelings with professionalism, you’ll be able to set aside emotion when an angry client reaches out with a rude comment and respond with professionalism. Even if you’re feeling upset, you’ll be able to de-escalate the situation, keep a good reputation, and possibly improve the client relationship by sending a level-headed response. 

Remaining level-headed in your response doesn’t mean you have to ignore rudeness from your clients. In some cases, your response can address the need for more professional communication in the future, but it’s important that you don’t lose your temper while communicating that boundary. 

It’s also important to be able to handle difficult conversations without taking things personally. Remember that criticisms and negative feedback are not about you personally. If a client is sharing personal criticisms, it’s time to either inform your client that they need to improve their level of professionalism or stop working together entirely. Your work life will be more sustainable and fulfilling when you work with people who respect you. 

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Rachel Dalrymple