business negotiation

In a perfect world, all of your interactions with clients would be smooth sailing. Sometimes there is conflict that you simply can’t avoid. The customer isn’t always right, but you do need to maintain a certain level of professionalism if you ever have a disagreement with your clients.

Conflict can occur for a multitude of reasons. There can be a miscommunication about the work you deliver or the price they’re supposed to pay you. Maybe you’re having trouble meeting their expectations. Here’s how to resolve conflicts with clients in a way that won’t ruin your reputation:

Pause to Think

Always take some time to think over your responses when you’re having a challenging situation with a client. I like to call this the “cool down” period. Emails in particular are forms of communication that can be easily misinterpreted.

If an email from a client makes you anxious, frustrated, or angry, you need to give yourself time to relax and think through an appropriate response. Don’t send off an email when you’re not in the right state of mind because it can exacerbate the situation. You can even choose to sleep on the response and give the email a look with fresh eyes the next day.

Text communication can come off more curt than it’s intended to be. Revisiting it later with a calm head could change your interpretation of the email.

Get a Second Opinion

There’s always three sides to a story — your side, the client’s side, and then the truth. You’re passionate about your business and you work hard. It’s not uncommon for business owners to get emotional when their work isn’t received well or the client is being more demanding than usual.

Get in touch with a few of your business buddies and vent about the situation. Ask for their unbiased, third-party perspective on the issue. This can help you approach the problem with a level head. Whenever I’m in a challenging price negotiation or situation with a client, I reach out to other business owners who may have experienced the same thing. It makes you feel less alone and the advice can help you overcome the conflict.

Know When to Walk Away

Clients treat you the way you allow them to treat you. I’ve generally had good experiences with clients. I’ve only had one experience where the client was downright rude and condescending about the work.

There’s no excuse for anybody to talk down to you or disrespect you. I ended up canceling the project with the client and not charging them for the bit of work that we did work on together. I decided that my sanity was much more important than getting treated poorly by a client.

Know when to be flexible and when to stand your ground. A client may request that you create work or make edits to work that you disagree with. You’re the expert and your reputation is always on the line. You can use the opportunity as a teachable moment and explain to your client why you’re way of doing things is better. But ultimately, they’re paying for the work so it’s their final decision. Don’t take it personally.

Final Word

Having conflicts with clients can put a pretty bad taste in your mouth. It can also lead to a few bad days. Always remember that you hold the power. Yes, a client is paying you. But you’re also a business owner providing them a service that they need. Do your best to defuse the situation with a level head. Always consider your contractual obligations, but know that sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and find a better client if things get too heated. 

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Taylor K. Gordon is a personal finance writer and founder of Tay Talks Money, a personal finance and productivity blog on hacking your way to a happier savings account. Taylor has contributed to MagnifyMoney, The Huffington Post, GoGirl Finance, Madame Noire, and The Write Life.

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