Do you ever have to talk to a client about budget or the features they want to ‘throw in’ to a project?

How about talking to a client that’s clearly not happy with your work and has requested a call?

It sucks and it’s stressful usually, until you make one crucial change in your goal for that call.

The old goal

For a long time my goal in hard calls was to bring the client around to my position. I’d be explaining to them why something cost so much or why I was saying no or why something wasn’t in scope.

I’d be fighting them the whole time and the conversation would suck. The next time we had to talk it still sucked because we would associate each other with that other sucky conversation.

Nothing really changed, either. We just kept sucking at a project together because we were now adversaries.

My whole goal was really winning the argument but the fact is, nobody won.

The new goal

When it’s time for that hard call with a customer your only goal should be to understand their position. Don’t talk about why you’re right and justify your opinion, but ask them questions. Repeat their answers back, as you understand them, and ask if you’ve understood them correctly.

Only once they stop talking and confirm you understand everything properly can you even start to talk. And now you actually understand what they’re thinking.

Now you can take a few deep breaths (really just to pause and think) and start to figure out a path forward. One that takes your point of view into consideration, but now that you’ve listened to your customer, they’re going to be ready to listen to you.

The only way to win in a hard conversation with a client is to both agree that the outcome is acceptable to all parties. If that’s not where you end the conversation then you likely failed at your first goal — understanding what your client is saying.

photo credit: legofenris cc

3 responses to “This should be your only goal in hard client conversations”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    Listening is hard, but effective. When we throw up invisible walls, people mirror that behavior. Chalk up another win for empathy and communication.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I came across this quote yesterday:

      “I am so wrapped up in the hurt I have received that I do not notice the hurt I inflict”.

      Makes me think of freelancers as well getting all wrapped up in their ‘rights’ and totally forgetting the rights of the client. They of course mirror us in that lack of care.

  2. Kate Avatar

    This is timely for me today! I’m about to walk into one of those conversations. Sage advice!