No one wants to admit that a client may be too difficult to deal with. That said, you shouldn’t overwork yourself when a client decides to be cantankerous.
Learning how to manage your professional relationships takes time, but with practice, even the most unusual of partnerships can become long-term, mutually-beneficial projects.
When you’re first entering into a relationship with a client, and you think they may be a little more difficult to work with than the average person, do what you can to identify the place your client is coming from. Sometimes that client will want to consult a committee before making any concrete decisions. Or, a client will fixate so much on their budget, brainstorming will be delayed for penny-pinching.
Look into these anxieties and see what you can do early on to alleviate them, or, at the least, address them. Acknowledging the emotional elephant in the room will make managing a more difficult client easier in the long run.
When you’re in the midst of a project, though, what can you do in order to keep your relationship with your clients efficient and productive?
If tensions in your partnerships are starting to rise, keep the following in mind.
You are, in your small business or working environment, a professional first.
This means that even though you may be tempted to treat a business partner or client like a friend, you’ll need to keep a professional distance between yourself and the other person. This distance will enable you to attend to their problems – or mood swings – more efficiently.
This also means, though, that you can’t let your emotions get the best of you. If your client starts shifting your deadlines, refusing to commit, or is downright rude, take a step back. You, after all, represent the company you work for. When communicating with a difficult client, then, you should embrace that distance and use it to preserve your professional reputation.
That distance is also necessary for ensuring that you don’t spend more time dealing with a difficult client than necessary.
This isn’t to say that you should neglect a client who’s upset.
Rather, you shouldn’t give one client more of your time than any of your other clients. Even the more needy clients will need to be reminded that you have a professional schedule to maintain.
If a client is trying to overtake your schedule, you can use time management apps and shared calendars in order to better contain them. Let them take a look at the schedule the two of you share – not your entire work schedule – so they can be reassured that they’ll have your attention for a concentrated period of time.
This can be helpful if you want to avoid nervous, 3am emails asking for updates.
Keep in mind, though, that your client is also a person.
Sometimes – especially when a client is being rude or inconsistent – it’s easy to forget that they have their own stresses to deal with outside of work, too.
Typically, a difficult client is not trying to sabotage their professional relationship with your on purpose. Sometimes day-to-day life makes it more difficult for a person to stay in a professional headspace. If your client exhibits an abrupt change in behavior, or if they seem finicky from the beginning, sit down with them and have an open, honest conversation about their expectations for your partnership and their ability to serve as an active participant in it.
It’s not your job to be their therapist, but understanding where they’re coming from may help you avoid greater difficulties in the long run.
If a client really is too much for you to handle, though, remember that you’re not working alone.
You can always seek help from your team members or superiors if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a client’s needs and mood swings. Bringing another person onto your project doesn’t mean that you’ve given up on your client. Rather, it means that you’re taking care of yourself professionally and ensuring that your client is still getting the work from your company that they need.
If the situation does truly look hopeless, even after bringing in someone to serve as a buffer, then you may have to terminate this professional relationship. This is okay. You haven’t screwed up. It may just be the case that your business wasn’t an ideal match for the client, and the both of you can go your separate ways for greater success elsewhere.
Working with a difficult client can be as rewarding as it can be challenging. No matter the outcome of a trying partnership – be it partnership termination or eventual success – you’ll leave that client having improved your ability to remain professional under pressure.
That experience will serve you well in the long run.
Cover image via Stocksnap.io