How to Handle Difficult Conversations With Clients

Growing a successful solo business requires more than writing or marketing expertise.

You also need to be great to work with.

And a big part of being great to work with is knowing how to have difficult conversations with clients.

Maybe you have to clarify boundaries or deliver bad news.

Or you need to renegotiate your fees.

Or maybe you need to let the client go.

Whatever the situation, if the conversation is important—and could easily go off the rails—you have to prepare for it.

This isn’t something you want to make up as you go along.

In today’s article, I’ll share two powerful strategies you can start with yourselfuse to make difficult conversations with your clients easier—and prevent them from ending badly.

Start With Yourself

In the excellent book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler point out that most of us don’t approach difficult conversations very effectively.

We often enter these conversations in a state of fear or anger.

And because of this, we don’t lead the conversation the best way we could.

One of the strategies they suggest is to ask yourself a few questions before the conversation, starting with:

  • What do I really want for myself here?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?

Once you have clarity on these questions, ask yourself:

  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

These questions can help you get clear on your objectives and all the factors at play.

They can clear your head of emotional trash that can cloud your thinking and decision-making—and drastically increase your chances of finding common ground.

Make It Safe

Another important element for productive conversations is to make it safe for the other person to open up and work with you toward resolution.

The other person needs to believe that you care about their goals and can

trust your motives.

They need to feel that you respect them. 

If either party doesn’t feel safe, the conversation won’t be successful.

Creating this safe space starts from the moment you invite the client to the call . . . and you need to keep it going throughout.

If the call starts to go off track, you need to pull back and establish safety again.

That could involve apologizing, clarifying, showing the client what you mean . . . and always speaking from the heart.

How do you know if the conversation is going into an unsafe zone?

You’ll see one of two reactions from the client: silence or “violence.”

Their tone will shift. They may withdraw, get quiet and stop sharing.

Or they may try to control the conversation. They may attack and blame you or others.

Again, when that happens, you need to take charge and pull back.

Because at that point, the content of the conversation doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about how people feel.

But when the client sees that you’re putting mutual purpose and respect above everything else, they’ll come back to the conversation.

Difficult Conversations Aren’t Easy—But They ARE Necessary

Having these kinds of conversations with clients isn’t easy, which is why our natural tendency is to avoid them if at all possible.

But if you continually put off conversations about raising your fees or establishing your boundaries or any other difficult topics, you’re not going to be able to move your business forward.

And then you’ll be having a difficult conversation with yourself.



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3. Work with me privately.

If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Breakthrough” in the subject line, and I’ll get back to you with more details.