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7 Strategies To Deal With Difficult Clients (Without Being Insulting)

Jul 27, 2021
  • 6 min read
  • Yolande Yip

    Not all client interactions are smooth and professional. Everyone has had an unfortunate run-in with a highly challenging client that seems determined to stay dissatisfied no matter how much you try to accommodate them. It can be hard to take the high road in the face of intense negativity, but it is sometimes necessary to sustain your business and protect your reputation. In worst-case scenarios, these customers can have substantial emotional conflicts with your team members. The trick to handling these unfortunate situations is to go into them with a plan of action so that you can take things as professionally as possible.

    Business owners and freelancers know it can take some very carefully planned tactics to manage demanding clients with poise and patience, even in the face of intense emotional disputes. Creating best practices for dealing with your more difficult customers can help you develop and maintain healthy boundaries that will keep both you and your client comfortable. By creating a protocol outline and setting guidelines, you will always have a process to fall back on when an angry client is making emotions run high. Use these tips to navigate difficult conversations with as much integrity as possible.

    1. Don't Take Business Personally

    It can be hard to separate your business from your personal feelings, especially as a small business owner; however, doing so will help you handle these difficult client situations with a level head. When unhappy clients attack your company, it can be hard to provide calm and genuine customer service. When this happens, make sure to focus on the clients' concerns at the core of these outbursts to understand the issue better. Looking at the client's situation as objectively as possible will help you find the root cause of any frustrations that may have lead to this situation. Once you have recognized the client's pain points, you can address and identify those problems directly rather than joining in on the blame game.

    2. Listen More Than Talk

    Listening is one of the best ways to identify the core issues that create challenging situations with a client. Collaboration can occur even with upset customers, as long as you take the time to genuinely listen to their concerns and try to address the heart of the issue. Practicing empathy even in the face of complex interactions is not easy for most but can transform your challenging clients into long-term positive partners. By listening rather than over talking, especially during hard conversations, you can learn a lot about what is causing these emotions and conflicts in the first place.

    Sometimes, the main problem is that a client doesn't feel like their issues have been heard. Just by sitting and genuinely listening to their concerns and empathetically responding when they have said their piece, you can thoroughly address a problematic client's pain point. Caring honestly about your client's experiences and where their frustrations stem from can help you not only heal your relationship with the angry client but prevent future problems.

    3. Keep Meticulous Notes

    For every meeting, conversation, and message thread you have with new clients, keep highly detailed notes, especially if they are difficult people. Recording these interactions will help you avoid confusion and add clarity in your communications and help you have factual information if clients dispute or misrepresent previous conversations. These resources act not only as protection against angry customers but can help you understand where talks may have gone awry. Reviewing your notes can help you ensure that you prevent more future issues with the client and provide insight into what can help improve your relationship in the long term.

    4. Employ Meeting Structure

    Setting and following structured agendas can be the best course of action for clients who often take conversations off the rails. Be upfront about the schedule, and share the meeting agenda with all attendees. Task a meeting owner (if not yourself) to keep the discussion tied to the meeting agenda. Keeping conversations focused and collaborative can help prevent arguments or negative rapport before they can occur. You also can make these meeting structures collaborative, ensuring that your team covers any concerns or issues clients may have. By addressing issues upfront, you can prevent them from growing into more significant problems in the future. As a bonus, this tactic will help improve any meeting's productivity to use the time for all parties efficiently!

    5. Match Tone and Body Language

    Matching the tone and body language to your message can have a surprising effect on the direction of a conversation. Even in the face of an unpleasant situation, trying to control things like your facial expressions can help avoid further conflict. Keeping a calm, patient demeanor when a client is frustrated or angry can help deescalate the situation. While trying to keep a level-head, remember to not come off as condescending or unconcerned. If needed, take time to go for a quick walk or find another activity to decompress from stressful situations so that you can keep a level head and continue being professional through subsequent interactions. Taking classes on body language and practicing these lessons can help develop this skill that can help you steer emotional conversations to keep client relationships happy.

    6. Meet in Person More Often

    With body language as an essential aspect of communication, meeting in person can help you better handle client conflict. When speaking with you face-to-face, clients are less likely to misconstrue your message and also are often more respectful in general. Having virtual conversations, especially without video, can make meeting attendees feel more empowered to be challenging or rude because they aren't across the table. Invite clients to come to meet in person with your team, and they may be less inclined to stray from the agenda or fight you on unnecessary points. Meeting with customers in a public space, such as over lunch, can also be a good option for busier clients who get frustrated with long, scheduled meetings.

    7. Know When To Cut Your Losses

    Sometimes working with a hostile client isn't worth their business. While it can be hard to turn anyone away, especially as a freelancer or small business owner, it is vital not to take excessive abuse or try to foster a relationship that isn't healthy. It can be the case that a client that doesn't seem to ever be happy with your work may have other, personal reasons for lashing out. In cases where the core issue isn't with your company or services, there often isn't much you can do to resolve the problem if you gently bring the matter up with the client and things don't improve.

    The costs to your company for keeping on demanding clients can be shockingly high. In the case of a catastrophic blowout, you can get bad press, lose other clients, and even potentially lose employees who were harmed by the client's bad attitude. Rather than forcing your team to deal with a rude and unproductive client, it can often be better to take the financial hit of refunding them or asking them to find another provider. When you avert a significant confrontation before it happens, you can help protect employees and the company.


    Challenging clients are never fun to work with. While it can be endlessly frustrating to deal with difficult people, take the time to try to communicate with them to see their perspective. By giving angry customers the benefit of the doubt, you may learn ways to better your processes to prevent future issues or mitigate pain points. Try not to take attacks against the company or your team personally, and listen to your clients when they talk to find the root cause of their issues. Try and keep detailed records of your interactions, especially with these more challenging clients. Meeting in person with a pre-set plan can significantly help mitigate the derailing of conversations. Face-to-face interactions also lead to less severe miscommunication due to the ability to read and use body language.

    Most importantly, don't let a rude or inappropriate client continue to cause problems if you have already made attempts to resolve their issues and address their behavior. While it is essential to help clients as much as possible, that doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice your team or your mental health in the process. The longer you wait to cut off clients that aren't a good fit, the larger the chance of a big blowout. Do your best to work with even demanding clients, but those unreceptive to thoughtful responses and high-quality customer service may not be worth your time in the long run.

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