working with difficult clients

Dealing With Difficult Clients – 3 Easy Steps for a Better Project

Dealing with difficult clients is one of the few things that can make you question whether freelancing is worth it or not

We all love our good clients, those friendly, understanding professionals who are a real joy to work with, who refer their friends and coworkers to your company because they’ve had such a great experience with you. We even love our mediocre clients because, well, they aren’t a pain to deal with and we like that. But ask anyone who has been freelancing for a few years about some of their bad clients, and I promise you will be entertained for hours – at their expense of course.


Sometimes bad clients are nothing more than grumpy people who have a chip on their shoulder. Maybe they don’t really appreciate your skills and think they’re overpaying. Regardless of the perceived reasons for their attitude, they can turn the simplest of tasks into a nightmare.


Unfortunately, bad clients are unavoidable. We will always run into them, they will always make projects difficult, and we will always have to resist slashing their tires after the lunch meetings. So how can you manage them without being arrested for vandalism? What is the best way to deal with a difficult client?


Working with difficult clients is a bit of an art form – it takes practice and there isn’t ever one ‘right’ way to do it. You should always use your judgement in these situations. Try to discern if the client is just angry at the world, or if they genuinely feel that there is a problem with your work. Once you have that figured out, you can work on applying some of the tips I’m about to share with you.

How to Deal with Difficult Clients – Step 1: Consider how you treat the client

Believe it or not, sometimes difficult clients are simply reacting to how we treat them. This is one area that many professionals do not pay enough attention to in my opinion. If you find yourself frequently using confrontational language or speaking in absolutes, it may be time to take a step back and how to handle difficult clientsrethink your wording.


Suppose a client suggests a design change (if you’re a web designer), and you respond with something along the lines of “That’s a horrible plan, putting pictures of kittens on the homepage will never make people like the site more and it will kill the user experience.” While the above statement is completely true, the wording used not only demeans the client and his opinion, it also makes you seem unwilling to consider the clients feelings and ideas. I don’t know about you, but if I were paying someone several hundred (or thousand!) dollars to design and implement a product that is supposed to be tailored to my needs, I would want them to be considerate of my thoughts and feelings on the matter.


In short, honesty is a good policy, but tactful honesty is a lot better.


How to Deal with Difficult Clients – Step 2: Try to directly resolve each issue

Although in some cases this may simply not be possible, it may help to meet with the client face-to-face and go through each issue they have with the project so far. As you go along, write down the issue as well as a proposed solution that you work out with the client. If the client starts to repeat himself, point out that you’ve already solved that problem and move on to the next issue.


How to Deal with Difficult Clients – Step 3: Apologize for any misunderstandings

Empathizing with your client and trying to understand his or her point of view can go a long way toward resolving the issues between you. If your client feels that you have wronged them or that you have made a mistake on the issue, apologize to them directly and express that you understand their position. Even apologizing when the issue isn’t your fault can help the situation. It takes a good measure of humility to do this, but if your client feels that you understand his or her feelings on the subject, they are far more likely to be reasonable as you move forward in resolving the issues with the project.


Dealing with difficult clients can be tough, but with some practice, handling difficult clients will become less painful and you’ll be able to turn those difficult clients into productive members of your professional network. Although the examples mentioned in this article were given from a web designer’s point of view, the concepts apply to any professional who finds themselves working with difficult clients.


For more tips on dealing with difficult clients, check out this article from Nicole Reyhle.


Have a horror story you’d like to share? Or do you have your own tip to share on working with difficult clients? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!

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