How to Work With Clients From Hell

How to Work With Clients From Hell

Table of Contents

What if there was a way to work with clients from hell and get the most of it? Is something like that even possible? Yes, it is. In this article, you will learn about five ways that will help you achieve that. What’s more, these ways can help you transform these people into your best and also permanent clients. Who knows? You may also discover one secret about clients from hell only few fortunate people know about. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

I have to admit something. The title for this section is not mine. This title is from book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written By Steven R. Covey. I borrowed it because it is one of the best things you can do to build strong relationships with your clients. In a fact, it might be the number one thing. Communication is the most important skill we can work on through our life. It is unfortunate that education system focuses only on teaching how to read and write.

What they don’t teach you at school

Both these skills are critical for any person to achieve anything meaningful in her life. However, there is one skill we neglect. This is skill is listening. Think about it. How much time have you spent learning how to listen? When I talk about listening, I mean listening actively. Quite often, when we listen to other people, we are not focusing on what they say. We usually think about what will we say next. Or, we might think about our to-do list and what we have to do later in the day.

As a result, we are more likely to misunderstand some information or miss it completely. Also, when we are not listening actively, the other person knows it. We are less engaged in the conversation. And, unless you mask it, anyone can notice it and many people will. If you don’t believe me, think about some conversation you really enjoyed. This can be either conversation you had or conversation you watched. You will see all participants actively listening and engaged.

No clients from hell, only misunderstood clients

The question is, how does this apply to working with clients from hell? What often makes us perceive clients as clients from hell is misunderstanding. When you deal with this type of client, you often see only the surface. This surface might be full of objections and complaints. However, this is only on the surface. What if you decide to dig deeper in a polite way? Then, you can find the real causes that made your client behave in that way.

The problem is that these causes are not visible in the beginning. So, what can you do to find these cause. Also, should you even care about these causes? Let me answer the second question. Yes, you should look for these causes. This can help you transform clients from hell to clients from heaven, or at least from earth. Let me tell you one secret. There are no clients from hell, only misunderstood clients. Let me repeat it. There are no clients from hell, only misunderstood clients.

I know that this slightly contradicts the goal of this article, to help you work with clients from hell. However, this is the truth. People who complain about clients from hell are often those who are also not willing to listen. These people just want to get the job done and move on. As a result, they don’t think about the real reason behind client’s complaints. So, this is my answer to the second question. Now, let’s answer the first one: What can you do to find these cause?

How to understand clients from hell

The idea is relatively simple. Yet, it can be hard to implement. You have to start communicating with your client in the right way. What’s communicating in the right way? First of all, you have to start asking questions. When your client comes with an objection or complaint, you must go under the surface. Talk with your client and ask her what made her feel that. What made her think that something is wrong? Is there anything she would suggest as a better option?

Notice that I didn’t use “why” questions. The reason is that “why” questions could force your client into defense. This is something you want to avoid at all costs. Clients from hell are already prone to get angry quite fast. And, asking them “why” question can seem to them like raising an objection. Someone who is already angry will usually react on objection with more anger. In other words, clients from hell will become more difficult to work with.

This is why you should avoid “why” questions. Replace these questions with “what” questions I used above. These questions are more polite and empathetic. These questions also suggest your client that you seek to understand her. As a result, your client will be more likely to cooperate with you and explain his stance. This is the first step to work with clients from hell. You have to show your client that you are willing to listen her first. Remember, seek to understand first.

Is it too good to be true?

If it is so easy, why are so many freelancers complaining about clients from hell? The reason is what we already discussed. In most cases, seek first to be understood. Our main goal is often only to get our point across. As a result, we may ignore the other person’s opinions or ideas. In addition, we also like to pretend that we’re listening. Since this is the usual we listen, we like to use it also in communication with clients. Then, what if your client has complaint or objection?

You are more likely to listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You want to deal with the objection as fast as possible. This works like a habit. You do this automatically. So, when objection or complaint comes, you do what you would do in any other situation. Following this habit loop is one of the reasons why freelancers complain about clients from hell. The first step is breaking this loop and starting really listening to our clients. So, this is too good, but it is also true.

See it as an opportunity to help

The next step to work with clients from hell is to take it as an opportunity. This is an opportunity for you to train your communication skills. In addition, it is also an opportunity to build your reputation. Only true professional can handle any type of client. The rest of freelancers are instead trying to avoid clients from hell or clients that are bigger challenge. It is also your chance to educate your client and introduce her into your work.

It is not too common to hear about freelancers trying to educate their clients. In the vast majority of cases, it’s all about getting the job done. Then, move on to the next one. Sure, we all have to work on new project in order to pay our bills. However, we should also do our best to provide the best service possible. I believe that this also means educating our clients. Working with clients from hell can get much easier when they understand our work.

The problem with approaching clients from hell as an opportunity is that it is difficult. It can be hard to try to educate “okay” client. Imagine if you are working with someone who likes to complain about almost everything. Something similar can be a client who is not responding. I experienced both. And, both cases proofed that you can educate what we call clients from hell. The key is using the right approach.

Using the right approach

First of all, don’t be arrogant or too pushy. Keep in mind that the majority of clients know very little about your work. Therefore, it is a very good idea to approach clients from hell with beginners mind. Forget for a moment your knowledge and get rid of your assumptions. This will help you see the situation from the view of your client. When you are in this position you are more likely to address client’s complaints and objections in the best way. This means solving them.

The second step is to ask a lot of questions. This can be uncomfortable because many of us were taught to never ask questions. However, asking questions is important to truly understand the problem your client has. Also, when you ask your client questions, it suggests that you are really interested in the issue. As a result, even clients from hell are more likely to cooperate. The third step is to encourage your clients to ask for anything.

As I mentioned, many of us are not used to asking questions. In addition, we may also be afraid of looking stupid if we ask. The same is true for your clients. When there is some issue, chances are that your client will not ask you about it. Some clients will mention it only very briefly, or not at all. So, make sure to always encourage your clients to ask a lot of questions. Show them your interest and willingness to share your knowledge. This is one of the best ways to build solid reputation.

From clients to hell to permanent clients

This is not the only benefit of this approach. In addition, it can help you transform former clients from hell into your permanent client. We are more likely to work with person enthusiastic about sharing her knowledge and expertise. Think about those days in school. Who was your favorite teacher? Was it someone enthusiastic about teaching his knowledge? Or, was it someone who looked like being tortured every time he had to teach the class?

My favorite teachers were always people passionate about the subject. It didn’t matter if it was history, mathematics or economics. If the person teaching the subject had that spark, chances were that I would like that person and subject as well. Here is the thing. Enthusiasm is contagious. When you meet someone enthusiastic about something, it is very hard to resist it. Before you realize it, you are full of enthusiasm as well.

So, if you want to transform clients from hell to permanent clients from heaven, show your enthusiasm. Make sure they can’t help, but want to learn more about your work. If you love your work and show it, chances are that your clients will show at least some interest too.

See it as a challenge and chance to grow

What if you are don’t think that clients from hell are hidden opportunity? Then, you can see them as a challenge. Don’t try to avoid clients from hell. Instead, take it as a challenge to learn how to approach your work as true professional. I mentioned this before and I will mention it again. Real professional can handle any type of client. For real professional, there is nothing such as clients from hell. There are only clients who are misunderstood or with bad experience.

Both of these cases can be an interesting challenge. You can turn these clients into clients everyone would love to have. All you need is having the right approach and attitude. Then, anything is possible. This can be a paradox. However, sometimes clients from hell are the people willing to pay more for great work. The reason is that the most difficult clients have often the highest standards. This is why they are complaining, your work didn’t meet their standards.

Imagine you would want to get excellent results. Would you quietly accept anything below this? Many people would because they are afraid to voice their opinion or don’t want to be offensive. However, there are individuals (me including) who re not willing to accept anything that doesn’t meet their standards. Instead, they will address every little issue that is below these standards. Some people will label these individuals as clients from hell.

The truth is that these people are not clients from hell. These people just have higher standards than you. So, stop complaining. Accept it as a challenge to meet new level of standards and improve your work! Remember that the most demanding clients are the biggest opportunity to grow and improve your skills. Is there any sweeter prize than that?

Take full responsibility for everything

The third step is to take full responsibility. When you accept new client, you are responsible for everything related to that work. Remember that there are no clients from hell. There are only clients that are misunderstood, uneducated or with very high standards. None of these people are seeking problems. They are hiring you to do certain work. This means that there is no reason why the project should go wrong. If something goes wrong, it is your fault.

I know that this is not comfortable to hear. However, it is usually the truth. This is based on my experience and experience of other entrepreneurs and freelancers I talked with. In the past, when something went wrong it was my fault. I didn’t ask for all necessary assets. Or, I didn’t ask when I was in doubt. Another problem was when I forgot to write down something I discussed with my client. In all cases, it was always only my responsibility.

Some people may argue that it is not your fault if your will not give you all assets or information. I disagree and here is why. Your client is not an expert on your work. Therefore, she can’t know what do you need to know and have in order to get it done. Do you still disagree? Okay. When you call an electrician to fix something, do you also prepare all tools for him? No. Do you write down all information he will need? No. You probably don’t know what he will need.

Why would your client want to pay you if he could do the work by himself? She wouldn’t. You should assume that your client knows nothing about it. And, she probably can’t read your mind. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ask for everything you need.

Don’t take anything personally

The last step or advice on working with clients from is one I would want to know in the beginning. First, I am a perfectionist. Second, I used to get too attached to my work. Well, both of these things are true today as well. However, there is one thing that changed. I no longer take objections, complaints or criticism personally. In the beginning, every time my client would come with feedback, it would crush me. Working with clients from hell was incredibly difficult.

When you attach yourself too much to your work, handling feedback can be very difficult. At some point, it can go as far that you will start to avoid it. This is a sure way to terminate your career. It doesn’t matter what type of clients you work with. When you take everything personally, you will be uncomfortable working even with the best clients in the world. And, what if you encounter clients from hell? Let’s not even think about that. You would not like it.

If you want to avoid this you have to stop getting feedback personally. Don’t get too attached to your work. Think about feedback as a way to improve your work and skills. What about clients from hell? This is great opportunity to accelerate your growth and build your reputation. Again, there are no clients from hell. There are only clients that are misunderstood, uneducated or with high standards. Whatever the case is, you can only benefit from working with that person.

Remember that every complaint, objection or suggestion is just a type of feedback. It is not an attempt to attack you personally. So, don’t think about it in that way. Everyone providing you with feedback is giving you a chance to improve. Accept it. Be grateful for it.

Closing thoughts on working with clients from hell

This is all for this article. I hope these five tips will help you not only get the most from working with clients from hell. In addition, I hope they will help you transform these people into your best and also permanent clients. The final message I want you to leave you with? There is no such a thing as clients from hell. There are only clients that are misunderstood, uneducated or with high standards. Remember that these people are often hidden opportunity to grow. Be grateful for it.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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