How to work with your not-so-favorite clients

Emily Belden's Layout avatar

Everywhere you go, professionally-speaking, you are bound to encounter someone whose personality may not click with yours or whose work style is totally different. In times like this, it’s tempting to cut all communication and run the other way. But sticking it out and working through it can prove to be rewarding for all parties.

Conquering a difficult client relationship allows you to not only continue a fruitful working relationship, but a satisfied client can help grow your business as well. A successful dynamic means that your client will likely refer you and bring you repeat business. Plus, it feels great to simply get along nicely with those who occupy your work day.

Here are a few tips for how to curate a peaceful, pleasant working relationship with challenging clients.


Acknowledgement goes a long way

Difficult clients can tend to unload by way of ill-toned and/or lengthy conversations. Whether these take place over email or on the phone, the key to getting through them is to acknowledge what is being said. This doesn’t mean you must agree, because most likely – if the conversation is around something you’ve presented or done for this client – you won’t. It just means you are offering to hear their point and respecting what is being said. Feeling heard is often all a frustrated, difficult client wants in the moment. So if you can lend a compassionate ear and promise to soak it all in before getting back to them, you’ve won this battle.

Switch to Skype

You may be thinking, “conversing with my not-so-favorite client is brutal enough, why would I want to do it over video chat?” But there is some psychology in having face-time. When people are behind their computer screen alone with their keyboard, they can type and send things they otherwise would not say face-to-face with someone. Urging your client to get on video chat shows that you are committed to communicating in an effective, high-tech way while also avoiding the harsh words that are often sent over email.


Put “personal” before “business”

Try to pick up on little facts about your client’s personal life. These could be things they say in passing on the phone (i.e., “Sorry I was late to join the call, I had to drop my kid off at school.”), or something they wear to a meeting (i.e., a Notre Dame keychain). Although they may seem insignificant, these are actually clues into what really matters to your client outside the hours of nine-to-five. If you can frame up a conversation about the things they like or are passionate about, it will make doing business that much easier.

Reassign, one more time

Before completely firing a client, getting fired yourself, or mutually walking away from a working relationship, consider moving the client to a different account team. If you’re a freelancer, look into collaboration. Perhaps teaming up with another creative in the short-term can help reach your long-term goals with the client. This may seem like a cop-out, but if done out of respect and with empathy, then it actually is more like an example of great customer service, resulting in a win-win for all.

Still having problems? Read about these communication problems with clients (and how to solve them!)

The greatest part about figuring out the key to working with difficult clients is that it feels so great to master the relationship. “There’s nothing else quite like repairing a broken relationship ” and smoothing it out for long-term success, so stick with it.

What are some of your tips for working with your not-so-favorite clients?

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