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Conflicts with your clients are a waste of your resources. I’m sure you’ve had that one client who refused to accept your ideas, blaming you for everything he saw going wrong with the project and then some.

These differences are often hard to handle and eat both time and patience. There are a few things to keep in mind and tools you can use to solve these situations. Let’s look over them and make sure you’re not missing out on the perfect opportunity to make everything better.

Have confidence in your ideas and don’t be afraid to show it

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Image via Flickr by NIKOLAOS CHATZIS

This is by far one of the most important things to keep in mind when dealing with difficult clients. When a client senses you are not fully committed to your plan or in any way doubt its success, they feel the need to take control. Once this happens, the relationship will turn into a continuous battle to assume control, the start of a cycle that is very hard to end.

Don’t act condescending

Remember the old saying “the customer is always right”? We all know that in most cases that isn’t true and there is no good way of letting a client be right and still have the project go as planned. Despite this, it’s in your best interest to avoid acting condescending. No matter how much experience you have in your field, no one likes being talked down to and our clients are not the exception. Put reasoning behind every point you make and don’t throw your years of experience in as a factor to prove you are right. Keep your explanations simple and use terms they can understand.

Making a person feel comfortable in a conversation is a key element of conflict resolution. It will make them feel more open to your ideas and it will make them accept your arguments easier.

Listen, accept and address concerns

In order to solve your differences you need to have a dialogue. Avoid being the only one speaking, trying to get in as many arguments as you can before they make up their mind. This is not a monologue or a speech.

Make sure that when the client chooses to their point of view you are really listening. Use active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand the other party’s positions and perceptions. Summarizing and rephrasing what they say will give them the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.
Ask questions that require YES and NO answers in order to make sure the information is clear and there is no flaw in communication.

Empathize. Try to understand why your client feels that way about the project and you will find it easier to accommodate their needs in order to reach a compromise.
By listening you will find it easier to point out benefits your approach has and how accepting at least some of your ideas would be to the client’s advantage.

Don’t take it personal

The work you do is important and it takes a lot of time and effort. There is nothing more unsettling than someone saying your “baby” isn’t good enough. Remember that when a client criticizes your work, they are not launching an assault on your persona, but rather letting you know that the result of the project is either unexpected or they just feel it doesn’t suit their needs.

Avoid assigning blame

There are cases in which you’ve worked with this particular client before and giving in to their demands has yielded poor results for the project. You know it and they might know it as well. This however does not make it alright to directly point fingers at them for the failure. You can try to subtly suggest the effect a decision might have on the outcome, but starting the blame game will only put your client in a defensive stance, basically closing all ways of communication. They’ll be unable to listen to your ideas and the reasoning behind them as they will be too busy defending themselves.

Be ready to compromise

Compromise is a major part of conflict resolution in any relationship. After listening to the other party, addressing concerns, advocating your ideas and their benefits, decide what you are willing to change and what parts are set in stone. Remember that compromise is not a sign of weakness and does mean that you are “caving in”. It means that you are a strong individual willing to reason and balance the pluses and the minuses and find a solution to a difficult situation.

Compromise is the key to building a strong and lasting relationship with your client. It shows you have a good understanding of what your client needs and are open to accepting their ideas. This will result in them trusting you more and will lead to easier interactions in the future, resulting in fewer conflicts. By compromising you show them that you understand and value their needs and assure them your goal is to collaborate with them to serve their purpose.

Know when to let go

Learn to choose your battles. If you do not foresee a business relationship with this client in the future, make sure you are not wasting your intellectual and financial resources in vain. If the creative differences are too fundamental, make sure you consider whether you’d be willing to go through this process of conflict resolution for any differences you might have on future projects involving this client.

Weigh the advantages and disadvantages that would result from solving the differences and if you feel you wouldn’t be satisfied with the outcome, let your client know that it won’t work out.

Dealing with clients can be a very difficult task and one must use all the tools at their disposal in order to make their job easier. Make sure you aren’t missing out on the perfect opportunity to strengthen or built the base of a good relationship with them.

Feel free to share your experiences and tell us what your tools are for solving differences with clients or just tell us about the craziest thing you’ve had to do to please a client in order to keep their business.

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