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The Zen of Working with Difficult Clients
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Karl Staib. If you work for yourself you’ve had an annoying client that just doesn’t seem worth your time. You can’t stop this from happening, but you can find your inner zen to turn this seemingly bad experience into a good one. I say this because I’m living proof that it’s possible. I worked with a client who didn’t listen to a word I said. It was so frustrating because I’m good at what I do, but nothing I said mattered. This guy hired me to throw him a Twitter party and everything I suggested was rubbish. This man was blind to the facts.
I’ve thrown some big parties for entrepreneurs who had the attention of much larger audiences than this person. They listened to my ideas. They didn’t always accept them, but that’s ok. I don’t need every one of my ideas to be implemented. What I do need is for someone to care about my opinion and take it into consideration. Here is a quick example: I told my client that it’s good to have a special offer at the end of the Twitter party. I suggested this because it’s a nice reward for the people who attend and also lets them know that you have a product that can help them. If they're attending the party they are there to learn new ideas, hang out and make friends. Their presence alone builds trust. Why not offer something to them that can help them? I must have brought this point up at least 3 times. Each time he didn’t even acknowledge what I had suggested. I was so frustrated because I knew that he wasn’t going to be happy with the results of the party. (Aside: This isn't always the case. Charlie’s Living the Good Life Twitter Party was a very successful party without giving a special offer at the end. This is because Charlie wanted to highlight other people instead of just focusing on himself. This was a great idea because it was an engaging party that helped other people, not just Charlie. There wasn’t the need to push for sales because it wouldn’t have fit in with the theme of the party. The circumstances of this new Twitter party were different, however, and that was frustratingly clear to me.)
Where the Zen Comes In
I was beating myself for not being more persistent. I knew that I was providing valuable advice, but I wasn’t getting through. Then: A few days had passed since the client's party. I was doing my morning Yoga practice. That’s when a passage that I'd read a while back popped into my head.
"Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another's personhood."
- Karen Casey
Every choice someone makes is for a reason, and understanding the rationale behind each choice makes it easier to create a Zen like attitude.
5 Tips to Cope with Client Stress
You have options.
You always have options. If you don’t believe that you do, you are locking yourself into a self-created cage. You don’t need to work with a client if you really don’t want to. There are always creative alternate ways to generate revenue.
Accept or fire your client.
Too often we get caught in a complain cycle. We complain about a client paying late, we complain about a client not putting in enough effort and we complain about a client who isn’t smart enough to grasp our insights. You can complain until you pass out from talking too much or you can accept your client for who he is (including the qualities you do like about him). If there is no way you can accept this “evil to the core” client, then fire your client. It really is that simple. We tend to make things difficult because, well, we like the drama.
Find 3 positives about your client.
Every client has positive aspects to them. Be more open to these positive traits; it’s so much easier working with someone we enjoy. I’ve caught myself hating a few clients and every time we chatted they could feel my distaste for them. It was such a childish act. I look back on this and still shake my head. He was a good man with a few faults. I think we would have had a more successful partnership if I only looked at his positive traits and learned to help him leverage them.
Seek common ground.
If there is a disagreement in the direction that you think the project should go, don't be too stubborn. There must be common ground, and you can find it. This is where your ability to ask good probing questions is vital. Find out what they are looking for, and figure out how you can align your work with these needs.
Enjoy the zaniness!
Every client, friend, and person you interact with brings some zaniness to your life. It’s easy to smile and laugh off a grumpy cashier but it’s harder to laugh off a demanding client. This is exactly what you have to do though. You can’t let one person or a group of people drag down your mood. When this happens you can’t think straight. This is where meditation comes in handy. When I’m feeling stressed out by a client I take a walk or sit on my meditation cushion. I replay my reaction to people’s craziness. It’s funny how caught up I can get over one little idea. This helps me ground myself and stop feeling so attached to people’s reactions. Bonus Suggestion: Set your limits. As a small business owner I aim to please, but this isn’t always possible. So when a client comes back to you for the 5th time to change something, be clear on what you charge extra for and what is part of your contract. If they realize that you are charging for every rework after the 3rd time they will be more efficient in what they ask for and what they expect from you.
I don’t have all the answers -- how have you made dealing with a difficult client easier? Short stories are more than welcome. Photo credit: Rodrigo Muniz