How to handle a difficult client conversation

Have you ever felt that sinking feeling in your stomach when your project hit a snag. We’ve all been there.
Perhaps it is running late because you underestimated its timeline. Perhaps the client has dropped a major new feature in your lap and you expect it to be shipped as part the original project scope.
No matter what the case may be, there is one thing certain: It’s time for you to talk turkey with your client.
Although difficult client conversations can be intimidating, they don’t have the power to destroy a good relationship. You can keep the project calm and everyone will be happy with the result by following a few simple steps.
Empathy is the first step to empathy
It is easy to see your client as a cog in the project wheel. You’ll be surprised at how common it is to see someone who brings their own set pressures and fears into a project.
Before you sit down to discuss the issue, take a moment and reflect on what is going on in the world of your client. Empathy can make it easier to keep a heated conversation from turning into a negative one. It’s your secret superpower.
Try this: I understand that you have a lot of things going on.
Act quickly
Did you ever ignore a small problem in the hopes that it would disappear? Only to see it grow into a major problem? Yeah, us either.
We have lived and learned and here is what we know: Even a minor risk can turn into a major problem in the future. If you wait and watch, it could be a huge distraction to your project. Grab the bull by its horns and take control of the situation.
You don’t need to wait for a status update to bring your client in. You can show your client that you care about the outcome by speaking up as soon you feel trouble. This is a surefire way of building trust.
This is how you can say it: Can we schedule an instant check-in?
Take ownership of the issue
Let’s face it, admitting that you have made mistakes is difficult. So hard.
Mistakes are inevitable if you’re human, which we know you are. It’s how you deal with your mistake that matters. Although eating crow can leave a bad taste, it is a sign of courage. Guess what? Your client will be more respectful of you if you admit to your team’s mistakes and address them head-on.
It doesn’t matter if the client is to blame. Here’s where your true potential lies! Don’t let your pride get in the way of taking ownership. No matter what the problem is, finger-pointing is not the solution. This is a great opportunity to show empathy and offer possible solutions.
Try this: I lost the ball, and I’m sorry.
Listen without reacting
What if your client rants, raves, and throws 4-letter words at me? It’s your job, no matter how crazy the ride may be, to get in the hot seat and make yourself comfortable.
This is probably the most difficult question because you can’t predict how your client might react. This can be quite frightening.
Let your client vent if they need to. This is not the time to voice your opinion or allow your emotions to take over. Focus on taking deep breaths and staying calm, cool, and collected. Next, use the power and flexibility of active listening to ask clarifying question as you guide the conversation towards positive outcomes or next steps.
This is what you can do:
Bring options to the table
Did you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child? It was magical to know that you could decide how the story would end.
This is your chance to spread some magic and give the client a sense of control. Here’s how it works.
You can come up with several different solutions.
These options can be presented to your client.
Let your client choose the solution that they wish to move forward with.
It’s hard to find something that sets a client at ease than knowing you have a plan in place (or 2 or 3 …) to preserve project momentum). Have some ideas to keep project risk under control? Please share these ideas.