How to Handle Tough Client Conversations

Living the Life

How to Handle Tough Client Conversations

Jun 28, 2022 | Living the Life

How to Handle Tough Client Conversations

Jun 28, 2022 | Living the Life

Awkward conversations are…well, awkward. 

No one wants to have them, but sometimes as a Solo PR Pro, they are inevitable when it comes to clients. 

In a recent episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, Karen Swim and Michelle Kane discuss how to handle difficult client conversations.

Whether you’re dealing with delicate topics, company-wide stress or a lack of communication, we have tips for making those conversations easier, plus some ideas to help get yourself set up for success in the future.

4 tips for making difficult conversations easier

If you’ve got an awkward client conversation on your calendar, here are four quick tips to make the process just a bit less painful.

1. Don’t put off the conversation

If there’s an uncomfortable conversation that needs to be had, nip it in the bud. 

It’s natural to avoid awkward situations, but they can quickly become distractions — we often make these impending conversations worse in our own heads. In an effort to keep you sane and to protect your business, rely on your strengths as a communicator.

“Inherently, communicators have the ability to put aside the emotion and navigate through,” Karen explains. Once you start the conversation, more often than not you’ll discover it’s not as bad as you build it up to be, and you’ll wonder why you put yourself through extraneous turmoil.

2. Stay calm

In the midst of the conversation, your instinct will be to defend yourself. 

Step back, take a deep breath and listen. Figure out what the issue is, and focus on that — not the person you’re speaking with. The last thing you want to do is escalate the situation.

3. Be firm and brief

One of the best things you can do in an uncomfortable situation is get to the point. 

Keep the tone light, but remain professional and hold firm. It’s vital to stay within your boundaries in order to protect yourself. 

4. Remember, it’s all business

Remember that none of this is a reflection on you as a human being. In good and bad situations, you must think of yourself as a business, because that’s exactly what you are! 

Take a step back and reflect on what’s being said and what’s not being said. Take none of it personally.

“A lot of times, there are things going on behind the scenes with a client or vendor that you don’t know about that could be forming a reaction,” Michelle explains. Try to get to the bottom of the situation calmly and rationally.

2 common difficult client scenarios you may encounter

OK, now you know how to handle awkward conversations with ease. Now let’s talk about two common scenarios solo PR pros may find themselves in with clients.

1. A conversation around results or metrics

Uncomfortable client conversations can often revolve around results. If clients believe they’re not getting what they paid for, they can become upset.

If you find yourself in this situation, address the situation calmly. Think about and bring up the things you talked about at the beginning of the relationship or project. Remind them of those points, and reframe the conversation in a positive and truthful way. List the things you did do.

You can say something along the lines of, “I hear you, and I understand why you’re upset. Let’s talk about it. Here’s what we agreed on, and here’s what we achieved.” If you feel they’re measuring your success based on metrics you didn’t discuss initially, explain, “What you’re saying is valid, but that’s not what I was working towards.”

It’s possible your contact is getting pressure from others in the organization or even pushback around budget. Maybe they’re not sure how to answer the questions they're receiving from their partners or leadership, so the blame is falling on you. Try to understand where their frustrations are coming from.

Starting off with a new client? Whenever you begin a new project, ask your point person what success looks like to them and their organization and how it will be measured. Create a clear and concise list, and put it in writing so you both can agree on how everything will work moving forward. Both of you can then always come back to this list if any issues arise. 

2. A discussion around communication (or lack thereof)

Another common topic of uncomfortable conversations can be communication — or lack thereof. 

Whether your contact is a bit disorganized or you have multiple contacts in one organization who are unaware of all the tasks you’re doing, things can quickly fly off the rails. 

Part of our work as solopreneurs is to manage our client relationships so develop a system or find a program that can help everyone see what you’re working on. Say something like, “I love that you include us on all these projects, but we want to make sure we have time to deliver quality work. Can we figure out a different way to streamline everything?” Make a plan together, and hold them to it.

Take care of your clients

One way to guarantee success is to focus on the people you work with. When you talk to them, ask how they’re doing and how you can support them. Let them know that you are there for them, and you want to help them achieve success in their work and career. It’s important to let them know you care about them as people, and you are their champion. 

These conversations can help you figure out what drives and motivates your contacts in addition to what the organization wants. Showing genuine support and kindness is a surefire way to avoid difficult conversations in the long run.

We want to hear from you! How do you handle challenging business conversations? Share your tips with us in the comments or on social media using #solopr!

Image via istockphoto; Credit:Dima Berlin

Written By Solo PR Staff
Solo PR is a membership community for independent/freelance professionals in public relations, social media and related fields. The Solo PR staff includes Editor, Jessica Lawlor and President, Karen Swim.