We've all been there at least once: we receive an angry call (or email) from an event client, bombarding us with accusations or demanding explanations.
If unjustified, these moments can lead to greater conflicts, which may have a negative impact on our work as event professionals, not to mention jeopardize the outcomes of the event we are planning for the discontent client.
As the financial expert Mark P. Cussen highlights, "Working with difficult and controlling people can be hard in any situation, but having clients who fall into these categories can be especially hard to bear. Clients who expect too much or try to micro-manage your practice can make it hard for you to do your job."
Needless to say, in the event industry, it can be quite frustrating when you need to manage conflicts with difficult clients on top of dealing with multiple event-planning or marketing issues.
However, being a true professional means knowing how to overcome these tense situations through emotional intelligence.
Here's how you can handle your difficult clients:
Remember that the client IS NOT always right
When facing a conflictual situation or dealing with a controlling event client, you may tend to automatically believe that he or she is right and there’s something wrong with the way you do your work.
However, don't just jump into asserting your client’s criticism. Stop for a second and listen to what he or she has to say, then analyze if the accusations are true or not. Remember that the client is not always right.
That’s why, if you receive an angry call or email, take your time to understand what’s wrong and then calmly and politely state your position, backing your opinions with strong arguments and explanations.
Use the art of negotiation
When dealing with a difficult client, don't hesitate to act as a true negotiator. "How this can help?" you must be wondering. According to Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, when it comes to negotiating, one must be wise about emotional display.
If you want to win a negotiation, you have to control not only the way you feel, but also the emotions you let the other person see. Brooks notes that by doing so, you’ll be able to actually manage your counterpart’s emotions and minimize the possible negative effects.
As she explains, "If your counterpart seems anxious or angry, injecting humor or empathetic reassurance can dramatically change the tone of the interaction. By the same token, if your counterpart seems overconfident or pushy, expressing well-placed anger can inspire a healthy dose of fear."
Be sure to double-confirm everything via emails
Although recommended in all cases, when working with difficult clients, be sure to reaffirm everything via emails. Agreeing upon things face-to-face or via phone is not enough. You need concrete proof that your client is giving you the green light to execute certain event-related actions. That way, in case of a conflict, you’ll have the written evidence to back up your arguments.
Know what your boundaries are
There are different types of event-related conflicts. Don't let your clients become verbally or emotionally abusive. Establish healthy boundaries and know your limits. Decide what type of behavior or treatment you won't accept and in which cases you'll have cancel your collaboration with the difficult client. Always think about your well-being and do what's best for you.
Be respectful no matter what
Being rude or aggressive with your clients, no matter how difficult they are, is never justified. Always be as polite as possible. If you feel like you can’t go on without being disrespectful, interrupt the conversation and take a break to restore your integrity. You never know how far a difficult client may go, so you’ll want to have a fair attitude toward him or her. By doing so, you’ll leave no space for accusation about your "unbearable personality” and “lack of professionalism."
Call to action
If you find yourself planning an event for a difficult client, don’t get discourage or rush to cancel the contract (except if the interaction becomes abusive). This may be a great opportunity to learn about managing conflictual situations and sharpen your diplomatic skills. Good luck!