When you and your client disagree

July 23, 2016

As sure as the sun rises in the east, you will encounter "impasse situations" with your clients. These will be times when you both have differing opinions, and where neither party will easily budge.

It is tempting to think that just because your client pays your invoices they, therefore, should always be allowed to have their way. Though this notion has some validity your client is also paying for your professional expertise, your opinions and your confidence that what you propose is the best suggestion. Part of that expertise has to include knowing when to stand your ground and when to yield. 

It is also important to remember that sometimes your client actually IS right, and it is usually because they know their business and their marketplace better than you do. We need to give our clients the respect they deserve for being experts in their own field.

If you truly believe that your idea is the best way forward for your client, here are some ways to break a deadlock and achieve a win-win outcome. 

Know the full story

The very first thing you should do is to listen carefully to your client in order to understand their viewpoint. Ask questions like:

  • "Tell me more about why you think this is the best solution."
  • "Is there anything about this situation that I am not aware of?"
Admit when you are wrong

It is quite possible that you have misunderstood something, misinterpreted the brief or are missing some knowledge. A humble attitude is crucial at this point. 

It's not a battle

Always keep in mind that you are playing on the same team; that a difference of opinion does not constitute a battle; and that your aim is not to be the winner. Your aim should be to see the best outcome for your client, and sometimes that means doing what your client requests instead of what you recommend.

Play nice

A scowl, tense tone-of-voice or terse words will create a barrier between you and your client. Just like in your personal relationships, a smile, calm voice and empathetic words will go a long way to resolving a difference of opinion. 

Use data

Being able to back up your ideas with real-life examples and anecdotes is good; backing them up with solid data is even better and more powerful. 

Been there, done that

Have any other companies executed the same or similar thing to what you are proposing? If your client can see proven, successful examples, it will remove the barrier of perceived risk from the equation. 

Paint a picture

Some people find it difficult to visualise concepts unless they can see something tangible. You may find that you experience opposition simply because of your client's inability to picture the finished product. To help convince your client of an idea, try presenting a storyboard, mood board, script or scamp to get your idea across the line. 

Be passionate…
  • …about your idea: If you appear to love your idea more than you love the notion of being "right", then there is a good chance your client will fall in love with your idea too.
  • …about your client's business: showing your client that you are passionate about achieving the best outcome for their business will speak volumes.
Check the brief

If you can refer to your client's own brief throughout your discussion it will lend strength to your point of view - clients don't often like to argue with themselves!

Back down to move forward

Have you ever seen a picture of two animals locking horns? Sometimes it can feel that way when you and your client don't see eye-to-eye. Why don't you try taking one step back, untangle your horns and refocus? The wiser animal is the one who understands that some altercations are just not worth the pain in the long-run.



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