Ways to Deal with Difficult Clients

Client conversations can scare the hell out of anyone. Unfortunately for all of us, difficult clients are simply a part of doing business. They can be extremely draining to deal with, complain about everything, and cause as many problems as they complain about. Even then, there’s no choice but to deal with them, since they’re the ones giving you business. It can be hard to figure out what to do when talking to one, but it’s important to try and pull it off before it’s too late.

Here are some tips that tend to work on most of these difficult, frustrating clients.

Choose Your Words Wisely

The way you speak can be a total game-changer when it comes to these clients. Listen closely to the way they speak, and try to match their energy as much as you can. Mirroring their word choices can help ensure that both parties remain on the same page and get things done, since it shows the client that you are really listening to them and understand the point they’re trying to get across.

Similarly, don’t respond to frustrated clients with passive statements such as “I understand.” This only serves to annoy them further, since it tells them you don’t really understand and are simply trying to satiate them. Once again, mirror their words to show them that you’re listening, and ask for clarification where it’s due. Repeat their statements to them, and ask if you’ve understood correctly. This way, they feel as though they’re actually being listened to.

man and woman shaking hands

Stay Calm

When dealing with an angry client, it’s absolutely vital that you stay as calm as possible and not show any sign of frustration. While it can be difficult to maintain a calm demeanor, showing any signs of anger will only make the situation worse. People tend to mirror the emotional signals emitted by the person they’re talking to, so by staying calm, you can often get them to calm down, too.

By stooping to their level of hostility, you put your own reputation on the line. It reflects negatively not only on your character but also on the company you work for. The statement “The customer is always right” still holds. Your reputation relies on client satisfaction, and they won’t get much satisfaction out of you losing your cool at them.

woman in white shirt

Be Specific

Difficult clients often have a poor sense of time and can be unhelpful and unresponsive when it comes to requests made of them. In cases like these, it’s important to make sure you’re communicating properly and being as specific as you can. It may be easy to blame any issues that come up on the client, but before you do, you need to make sure you’ve left no holes in communicating your concerns.

There are a number of excuses one can make on this front, from not being given enough information to complete the request to not knowing that there was a deadline in the first place. For this reason, you need to make sure that nothing is left ambiguous. To start with, make sure all important information such as deadlines exists in written form somewhere or the other. This way, you always have solid proof of them existing. You should also try your best to communicate your requests as clearly as possible to limit the odds of your client missing out on anything they’re supposed to do.

Keep a Record

Following up from the previous point, it’s vital that you keep a record of all communications that occur when working with a client. Sometimes clients will make drastic changes to their requests late into the work process, and other times they’ll insist on having agreed to more or less than they actually did. To avoid this, simply keep a record, written or otherwise, of everything.

If you have proof of everything that was agreed on, clients cannot hold any last minute changes they make against you.

close up of notebook with project info

Be Empathetic

Difficult clients are called “difficult” for a reason. However, it could help to try and look at them in a different light. Instead of simply seeing them as frustrating to deal with, try reframing the situation in your mind: They’re good clients stuck in a bad situation. This way, you’re likely to be more empathetic and patient with them, which can make them more willing to cooperate.

Remember: Your clients are human too. They may be going through problems, whether personal or professional, that are causing them stress and could be the reason they’re being so difficult. While this obviously doesn’t excuse rude behavior, it can explain it. If you try to think of things this way, it may help you resolve the situation in a better way.

business partners talking on kitchen table

Cut Your Losses

Sometimes you won’t be able to fix an issue with a client no matter what you try, and that’s natural. They’ll demand more than you can possibly do and therefore will never be satisfied. Things can get extremely emotionally draining for you and all your coworkers, and you may come away with no sign of profit despite your efforts. At times like this, the only solution may be to terminate the client.

When things get too much, it’s important to prioritize your reputation and integrity (and sanity) over whatever profits and business a client may bring in. It can be equally frustrating, but showing them the exit may be the only way to do that. Keep dealings professional and losing one client probably won’t harm you; in fact, it could help you, since you now get to spend your time working with more agreeable and productive clients.

businessman handing client contract to sign

Final Thoughts

Difficult clients can be tiring in every way. They use up resources, time, energy, and money, but in many cases, this can be minimized. Learning to deal with clients like these can get you out of difficult situations most of the time; patience is key. The way you deal with them can also be a learning experience for both parties, and improves your reputation in whatever industry you work in. Finally, the harder you try to work with clients like these, the less likely it is that you’ll end up having to terminate them.