Do you remember a situation with a client that ruined your weekend? 

That more than “just a bad day” situation?

You look forward to your free time. All of a sudden, your client tells you that the work you thought was done needs to be reworked.

Goodbye leisure. Goodbye rest, family, and personal time.

Difficult people are everywhere. We’ve all met rude people who don’t follow through, disrespect deadlines, and are unaware of how their actions impact other people.

You can simply avoid them.

But when it comes to handling difficult people at work, the story is somewhat different. 

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As a business owner, you are bound by a contract that is a big game for your business. A contract may not have the same meaning for all parties, even if it is spelled out to the dot. What happens when you and your clients are not on the same foot? 

Is it an attitude, a misunderstanding, misaligned expectations, poorly defined requirements, or just a difficult character?

No one wants to have their weekends ruined. Even less, having a client screwing the whole week and other projects. 

So how do you deal handle difficult clients to avoid that?  



How to Handle Difficult Clients and Enjoy Work

There is no one foolproof blueprint for dealing with difficult clients. Everyone is a unique story. 

But most client-related issues are either personality-related or process-related

Since you cannot do much about someone’s personality, it is best if you let those clients go. What you can do is set up an example according to your strategy and be relentless in implementing it with clients who are misaligned with you regarding the process. 

That type of clarity will help with misunderstandings, process requirements,   

1. Figure out the real issue.

Client difficulties are more often than not a result of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. It is rarely a question of an unresolvable conflict. 

Often, there is something else behind the problem that is stirring the pot. Make sure you know the real issue behind an unhappy client. Ask more questions about the unpleasant development that took place between you and your client. 

2. Do not react — respond.

Acting in a reactive way is about taking the problematic issue personally. 

Even if it seems so initially, it is not so in 99% of the cases. Reactivity assumes offensiveness. It is an action that comes from a position of powerlessness. Don’t assume bad intentions or wrongful doing. 

Responding accounts for the other person, too, taking care of the shared goals and what you have in common. Understand what triggered you in the problem and apply the famous quote by Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”.

3. Acknowledge your client’s position.

Express compassion, but avoid regret and over-apologizing 

There is a vast difference between taking responsibility and taking the fault. Acknowledge if you have made a mistake and take responsibility, but don’t dwell on it. 

If someone finds fault with you constantly, you may be dealing with a case of a difficult personality. It may be time to remove them from your perfect client list.

4. Pause.

When you are left with no clue about how to tackle a difficult client, take a break. 

Acting quickly can worsen the situation because you can act instinctively without having all the facts. 

It is not easy to relax when the issue is brought to you at a crucial moment. But acting recklessly can ruin more than a weekend or a project.  When you are stressed and frustrated, your decision-making and problem-solving skills drop significantly.

Leave space to go back and resolve a difficult matter calmly. Even if it is a few hours, it is much better to wait a bit than let the stress overflow to your other projects.

5. Choose language mindfully.

If you can help it, avoid using charged words when communicating with your client about the problem. In face-to-face meetings, loaded body language can implicate meaning beyond facts. During a phone call, be mindful of the tone.

Bring the issue back to the common ground and don’t point fingers. Use words that stick to the meaning and describe the issue regarding the project and the process. 

6. Be curious, not judgmental. 

When you hear unexpected bad news from a client, it is easy to think of the worst. 

What you can do is ask more questions.

Even if the client doesn’t want to give you that many details, you will learn more about what went wrong and try to avoid it next time. 

7. The devil is in the detail.

Ah, details, details… Details are subject to misinterpretation, especially in different work cultures. You can avoid detail mishaps by creating precise and thorough project workflows to reduce poorly understood details to the minimum. 

Be clear for yourself and it will translate to the clarity you expect from your client to avoid complications.

8. Do not complain.

“But, but, but…” Complaining indicates procrastination in tackling the real issue. 

If you have to point out a difference in opinions that led to the difficulty at hand, express your position after you acknowledge your client’s stance. Complaining may put the blame on your client’s court. Next, you can expect more defensiveness and a lack of cooperation that can further exacerbate the conflict. 

9. Send reminders close to the event.

Sometimes, people forget to complete their part of the contract. In long steady projects, this can happen more often. 

Life happens. Instead of getting a headache because your client didn’t send the files on time, send them a reminder as close to the event as possible.  

10. Double-check understanding.

For example, ask for confirmation that someone has received your meeting request or project documentation. 

Ask clarifying questions, use examples, and rephrase. Ask whether the other party has some questions and confirm you are on the same page.  

11. Set firm boundaries about key goals.

If you are rigid about every project, you will end up being the difficult one. 

But it is important to be firm about contract goals of great value and especially at the beginning of a client relationship. 

You can play with flexibility when it comes to certain less important objectives or working methods that are important to the client and not so important to you.    

12. Take control and write new rules.

Taking command means dealing with difficulties during uncertainty when no one wants to or knows how to make the first move. 

Your client may struggle with the best way forward because of a lack of information. 

Since you are the expert on some matters, illuminate the situation by providing assurance about the best deliveries. It is best if you make quality standards a part of your business strategy and communicate them upfront to help cautious clients feel more at ease. 

13. Overcome fear of conflict before it accumulates.

Don’t let issues linger. In this way, you are worsening them. If something bothers you, express it as soon as possible politely and encourage your client to do so. 

For example, feedback or a review questionnaire can give you an idea about buried issues at hand and the best ways to resolve them. Make feedback exchange a part of your regular work as an opportunity to build rapport and eliminate client difficulties. 

14. Write goal-oriented outcomes.

Ensure you are in sync about project goals by writing them. You can be vague with the tools you use but not so with the specific goals you want to achieve. 

The sauce details can be vague but the meat and potatoes of a project must be spelled out in a detailed recipe. 

15. Use the agile approach.

Work iteratively in sprints and act on the received feedback as you go. It is important that your client understands what it means to work in iterations and that you are product co-creators who want the best for both parties. 

16. Measure, track, and document. 

One area where you are not allowed to make mistakes is numbers. Develop measurables such as OKRs and KPIs to evaluate project success. It is a breeze to handle a difficult client when you show them metrics. It is another story if you use descriptive language for goals because not everyone agrees on qualitative goals. Document everything in digital tools or otherwise.   

17. Offer solutions. 

Build a solution-oriented mindset. When a problem occurs, focus on the solutions. This is the most important step you can take to come to a common understanding. Solutions demonstrate proactive positive behavior and a willingness on your part to remove an obstacle rather than escalate the situation.  

18. Say goodbye and recommend someone else.

Be ready to cut ties with certain clients. Fighting for more clients without paying attention to the client fit is not always the best approach. It can drain you without providing sufficient value for both you and your client. Ensure you communicate your withdrawal courteously Recommend a better person for the work if you have a chance. This is an atmosphere of appreciation that leaves you and your client on a good foot and expands your network.  

19. Integrate the lesson.

Incorporate the learning process into the next client experience. 

Reflect on what happened and how can you avoid the same next time by making mistakes a valuable learning tool.

Growth is impossible without difficulties. If you are always at ease, you’re probably not growing. Welcome discomfort as a sign of progress. Just don’t let discomfort build up into chronic stress. 

The shortest strategy for handling challenging clients is the following one – don’t:

  • Choose a poor match that grows into a difficult client because of incompatibility in skills and quality
  • Create a difficult client by being difficult yourself. 
  • Encourage challenges because of a lack of clarity about joint goals.

Become an expert in meeting client challenges and grow your business.

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