Oh come on, we’ve all been there. You know, in one of those situations where you’re not quite on the same page as your client regarding next steps, a particular item and/or the way to achieve the primary project objectives. It happens to all of us.
a.) Simply appease the client
b.) Stand your ground
c.) Find a happy medium
d.) End the project
e.) None of the above
Before reading any further, you have to understand that I am not of the school of thinking that the client is always right. However, I am not so vain to assume that I am always right, because I’m not. I’m of the frame of mind that successful relationships are rooted in how we choose to navigate these types of situations. They can be incredibly empowering and valuable to everyone involved.
Eye on the prize. What’s the end goal or intended outcome? Sometimes we get so caught up in how we’re going to get there that we fail to remember where we’re going. Refocusing on the end goal (or goals) can open the door to solutions or paths that we never even imagined. Being too focused on the “how” right up front can be incredibly harmful and misleading to a project. It causes us to unintentionally narrow our scope of thought and fail to identify all the factors that can cause change throughout the process.
Pick your battles wisely. There are times when you simply won’t agree with the client. Is it a small issue or a big one? Put the item in question into perspective. If it’s something small with minimal impact, then it may not be worth the headache. However, if it’s something big that could throw off the trajectory of the entire project, then it may be well worth digging in. Therefore, decide when it’s critical to not back down – and please make sure it’s always for the betterment of the project, and not your ego.
Mutual achievement and focus. Remember, beyond the actual end goal of the project, your client wants to succeed in an area where you can offer insight – and (I’m assuming) you want to see that client thrive as well. Even at the most frustrating and trying moments of a working relationship you have to take a step back and remember that you’re both focused on mutual gain. Therefore, work together to remain focused and achieve that mutual outcome.
Walk in their shoes. How you look at a particular item or problem may not be how your client sees that same situation. Take the time to ask questions and understand where their perceptions are coming from. Industry norms and corporate culture can play a huge role here. Being able to understand the ecosystem where your client works can foster a solution that takes into account other factors and preferences that scale well beyond your control.
Keep the lines of communication open. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, be sure to grab face time or pick up the phone. This is especially critical when you’ve found yourself in a disagreement with a client. Don’t go back and forth via email. Being aware of a brewing situation, taking the time to acknowledge the point of disagreement, and working towards a solution is incredibly poignant. Employing the tips above can further assist you in having a productive conversation with invaluable results.
My last word to the wise is – do your homework. Client unrest is normal, but make sure that you’re up front before they’ve become your client. Granted, we don’t always have a choice, but in cases when you do make sure to clarify expectations right from the get go. This will enable you to more effectively manage expectations throughout the relationship. The result is a healthier working relationship that can proactively manage disagreements and collectively work towards powerful solutions.