Difficult Conversations Series Part I (Clients)—Stay Sane, Communicate Better, and Achieve More With Simple Steps to Manage Demanding, Disgruntled, and Distasteful Clients By Directing Dialogue, Keeping Professional, and Remaining Efficient

How to Control Difficult Conversations with Impossible Clients 

At times, there are toxic patterns of thought we’re prone to whenever we encounter hostile or demanding clients. Thoughts like “I have no choice”, “Maybe they will get better”, or “What if I don’t find another client for a long time?” These thoughts poison us such that we end up putting up with discomfort and unsavory moments just to close a deal that might not be as profitable as it seems. Think about it this way, would the profit you make from an unsavory client compensate for the stress you experience? In an age where mental health is of paramount importance, you definitely don’t want to damage your health just to strike a deal that may end up giving you more grief in the long run. What’s the benefit of closing a deal when you end up at the doctor’s office?

When conversing with clients, you should prepare for difficult topics. They may not always come up, but you must be ready if they do. There might be unfavorable terms of a contract that you might have to get them to review or there might be previous history with the client that made your company look bad. There are a thousand scenarios that could make the sweat run down your back when it’s time to finalize terms.  And what happens when the client is already labeled as ‘difficult’? While it’s pretty easy to deal with reasonable clients, the disagreeable ones require more effort. With that said, here are three vital tips for handling difficult clients as well as gracefully managing the stressful conversations that may accompany working with them: 

Zero In Your Mind

First off, you should remember that your client isn’t your first and won’t be the last. Just like money constantly flows in and out of credit and debit columns, so too will your clients constantly flow in and out. It is then up to you to decide the kind of clients you want. You are not a passive victim. You can dictate the right mindset you need to stay in control. 

When a client is proving incredibly difficult, you must reserve every right to cease negotiations and walk away. You can put your foot down at any stage if you are taking abuse or you can see the conversation is not going anywhere. After all, you are in the business of reaching favorable, win-win agreements for both you and your client. So first off, zero in your mind away from desperation. You are not desperate; life will go on even if you don’t seal this particular deal. The truth is that if you’re desperate, you’ll most likely be exploited. In order to avoid regrets, you must never appear too anxious. You also must never accept ridiculous behavior simply for the sake of feeling helpless. Make it clear to yourself and to your client that you’re willing to walk away if things are not truly in your long-term best interest. 

Speak Facts Over Emotions

In retail stores, we see personnel put in tremendous effort to appear cheerful even when they must tend to challenging customers. They rarely lose their cool. They keep their emotions in check and merely solve the problem as quickly as possible. 

When engaging in difficult conversations with clients, it’s vital you keep your cool. You cannot let them see you frazzled, and you cannot let them irritate you to the point at which you have lost control. In essence, they win. They have knocked you off your game and now they are in control.  To avoid this, focus on your facts and contractual interests. Where a contract or a potential sale seems averse to your client, solely focus on one issue at a time and only use facts that cannot be argued with to rationalize or compromise your position. Maintain your calm, communicate your points, and maintain your stance. Oftentimes, negotiations only favor the person who has more facts, the wits to persuade, and mental resolve to remain unfazed no matter the trajectory of the negotiation. Use this to your advantage – choose calm over unease or desperation.

Ask Questions

One of the reasons that cause difficult conversations with clients to surface is when there is a breach of contract or a failure to meet contractual expectations. You both had an agreement but, due to circumstances beyond control, either you or your client couldn’t deliver as expected. What do you do? Ask the right questions. While it may seem natural for anger and frustration to emerge, it is your responsibility to shift the focus from complaining about the problem to seeking solutions for it. 

By asking questions, you give your client the chance to explain his/her perspective to you. If it’s an issue of not meeting the client’s expectations, you must simply ask “What can I do to make this better?” and listen to your client’s recommendations. You may be extremely surprised by what they actually want or need. You shouldn’t make assumptions. Let them tell you directly. The point of asking questions is to divert both your attention and that of your client from the tense topic to working together towards a collaborative solution. What’s more is that asking questions allows you to broaden your perspective and that of your client.

Aside from resolving a breach of contract, asking questions helps you understand what your client has in mind. Think about the initial moments of negotiation before striking a deal. You never can tell what your client’s expectations are. You are not inside their heads. In the same vein, you can’t assume that your client would compensate you or your company reasonably without being forced to do so. Intensions must be spelled out and terms communicated clearly. By asking questions and continually confirming your understanding of the answers, you are ensuring there are no misunderstandings in the future. 

Last Words

It’s not enough to just keep your mind clear, speak facts, and ask questions. You need to pen down new resolutions with your client. There needs to be a set pathway to move forward and outline the expectations on both sides. Depending on the trajectory of your conversation, canceling the deal might just be the best option, especially if you need to stop harmful habits in their tracks. It’s vital to set the right tone and precedents with clients. However, if there’s a chance that the deal can still be profitable for both of you, ensure that you explain yourself as calmly as possible and likewise allow your client to speak. Quite often, clients who are initially difficult can evolve into your most loyal clients because they trust and respect you. Transform and redirect negativity where you can but know when to let go and refocus your energy into better and more profitable relationships.

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