If you’ve been in business a while, you’ve inevitably encountered a few resistant clients along the way. It’s one of the most challenging aspects of being in business. Sometimes, the resistance is so strong, it can even make you question why you’re still in business.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking a client’s resistance personally and start second-guessing yourself. This is often based on the old-school premise that “the customer is always right.” This is not always the case, as my example below shows.
A few years ago, I worked with a consulting client that from day one, my presence ignited a huge wall of anger and resistance from one of the staff members of the organization. Literally, when I walked into the building to begin some on-site work, this staff member regarded me as if I was a sworn enemy.
This wouldn’t have been an issue except that I was told by the woman who had hired me in as a consultant that I needed to work with this person. Because of this, I was determined to find out what triggered such an unpleasant response to my being there. After a couple of in-depth conversations, I learned that this staff member had been doing the work that I had been contracted to do, and he resented me because I was, in essence, “taking that away from him.” His anger wasn’t at me but at his boss. Once he admitted what the anger was about, he no longer took it out on me.
It took some inquiry and exploration on my part to determine why anger was being directed at me without cause. What was most important was that I approached the conversation without judgment or criticism, so the staff member wouldn’t become defensive, thereby fueling his anger.
Instead, I spoke to him with a sense of curiosity and genuine interest, which diffused the intensity of emotion he was feeling and allowed us to reach a place of authentic connection.
With resistant clients, business owners, of course, do need to do a bit of assessment to see if the resistance is a reaction to a flawed product or service, poor customer service or some other in-house issue. But once that’s been assessed, and either corrected or found to not be the source of the resistance, then it’s necessary to see that it may truly be a reaction coming from the client’s own (often skewed) perception of the situation.
While unpleasant, resistance can be a wonderful teacher. It requires that we slow down, tune in, listen and take the pulse of the situation. It calls upon us as business owners to become teachable and open to discovering new and better ways to improve our client relationships.
To assist you with that process, I’ve compiled some tips that might be helpful when you next encounter a resistant client.
- Pause and assess the situation to see if the resistance is based on something that needs attention in your business.
- Tune in and listen to the client, approaching the resistance in a spirit of inquiry so you can see the situation from his/her perspective.
- Focus on how to resolve the disconnect with solutions, instead of focusing on the problems and difficulties.
- Set clear, healthy boundaries so that you and the client both know what to expect going forward.
Ideally, when you encounter resistance you want do what you can to build a bridge of connection and trust with the client so it’s a win-win and all parties get what they want from the encounter. If one side of the relationship is contracting and withdrawing from the connection, it strongly decreases the chances of a successful outcome for everyone involved. In some cases, even after following all the above steps, you’ll still encounter resistance and may even have to end that client relationship.
Business is built on relationships. To be successful, business owners need to attain a certain degree of mastery in this messy and unpredictable terrain. Knowing how to navigate resistance is a great place to start.