Dealing with a client who makes your life miserable is something every business owner has had to face at one time or another. It can be especially trying when the person is a major source of revenue for your firm or when they are particularly combative with your staff – or both! Difficult clients are often not reasonable, and sometimes we get stymied in responding.
While it is always a possibility to simply fire the client, it is not always the optimal choice. Firing them should be the last resort after you have tried a number of other things to work with them more effectively. Review the following strategies to see if these could be useful in working differently with your most difficult client.
(1) Recognize your own triggers and what is most upsetting about this client’s behavior to you, or to your team. Do you feel they are “disrespectful”? Do you think they “yell too much”? Are they “hard to read” or “difficult to please”? These are many ways we’ll describe someone who is difficult. Recognize what about their behavior is bothersome to you and how it impacts you.
(2) Once you recognize the triggers, become more objective about the behavior. Are they yelling AT you, or are they simply a yeller? Are they rude to YOU, or are they simply rude? Trying to be more objective and less “at me” when thinking about the behavior gives you more objective options to deal with them.
(3) Understand their behavior style. Are they bold and aggressive? Are they quiet and passive and non-communicative? Do they ask for lots of information but then don’t make a decision or respond? Identify their behavior type and then consider how it is different from your own. Is it possible to reframe their behavior and understand that it isn’t “bad,” it is simply different?
(4) Seek to understand. Be objective and identify the behavior directly to the client. Instead of becoming defensive, or trying to reason with them or hoping they will change, explore what’s really underneath the behavior. “My staff experiences your communication as yelling at them. Have we done something to upset you?” “I have sent you the information you’ve requested a few times but I have not heard back on it. Is there something else I could do?” Identify and offer an action.
(5) Relax and stay calm, and teach your staff to do the same. Practice deep breathing. Visualize a happy scene. Keep a picture or memento nearby that comforts you or makes you happy. Some people keep a smooth stone in their pockets and simply rub it when a difficult person is around.
(6) And of course, when all else fails, remember that you could fire them. This too can pass!