While proactive client management can mitigate most project obstacles and hurdles, and clear communication can practically eliminate client confusion and uncertainty, it’s nearly impossible to avoid all client conflict. Managing conflict the right way can turn a negative situation into a positive one, reinforcing your expertise, and building greater trust with your clients. Plus, by addressing any potential conflict immediately you can salvage the client relationships worth saving and end those that are toxic before they devolve into a situation that could harm your business.
If you’re unsure of how to handle a conflict with your client or have the tough conversation needed when a client is unhappy, try out these tips for a successful conflict resolution.
Tips for Conflict Resolution
- Listen: Give your client time to speak their mind, share their story, and explain their frustrations uninterrupted and listen to what they have to say. Often clients that leave do so because they didn’t feel heard.
- Acknowledge: When the client is done explaining the situation to you, take time to acknowledge their feelings. Repeat back the key concerns they have to show that you listened and understand. If you need to, ask non-judgmental questions to gather more information.
- Show Empathy: It is important to your clients that you care about their concerns and the problem at hand. They want to know that it concerns you as well. Take a moment to consider the client’s perspective, why they are upset, and how the situation affects them. Let them know that you are sorry, you care, and you’re doing everything you can to reach a positive solution.
- State the Facts: So far, the conversation around the conflict has been focused on the client, their concerns, their needs, and making them feel heard, acknowledged, and understood—and you have done so without defending you or your team or arguing with the client in any way. Now objectively and clearly state the facts about the situation. Communicate the who, what, where, when, why, and how and leave emotion out of your conversation.
- Explain the Solution: With a clear understanding of the problem and the objective facts, it’s time to explain the solution to your client. In some cases, you will have a solution ready to present to them on the spot, in others you’re explaining the process of what will happen next and how you recommend a solution be reached.
While you hope to minimize and avoid conflicts with proactive client management and clear communication, at some point conflicts will arise. The key is being prepared to manage conflicts effectively so you can reach a positive solution quickly. This way you can transform a potentially negative situation into a positive experience that shows empathy, builds trust, reinforces your professionalism, and improves your client relationship.