How To Deal With Difficult Clients Respectfully As an Online Coach

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In the business of coaching, it is only a matter of time until you come across and deal with difficult clients. Or maybe you already have and are currently struggling with how to best handle this situation.

While a difficult client interaction can be draining and has the ability to take up mental space even after the session has long passed, there are effective solutions you can implement as quickly as today!

But first…

What Is A Difficult Client?

Difficult clients, whether intentional or not, present issues that hinder you from conducting your business properly and efficiently. Understand your clients are not perfect people like you and me, and they might be facing personal challenges, miscommunication, or have unrealistic expectations. 

Examples of difficult clients are those who:

  • Set unrealistic expectations far beyond what you can deliver
  • Consistently change project scope, budget, or requirements
  • Resistance to change or embracing your methods
  • Constantly complain or criticize
  • Refuse to pay the agreed-upon fees 
  • Consistently ignore or violate the terms and conditions outlined in your contracts

How To Deal With Difficult Clients

The first thing that needs to happen when you realize you have a difficult client on your hands is to strengthen the line of communication rooted in understanding and empathy. Try implementing the following strategies to steer your relationship with your client on a more positive route.

Understand Your Client’s Frustrations

Try to find and understand the root cause of their frustrations. It may come from various sources, and sometimes even from fear of taking risks and embracing changes. Try to look at the situation from their perspective, and make an effort to understand their concerns or underlying reasons for their behavior.

In the event their frustration is actually due to a fault that is caused by us (coaches), take accountability and apologize. Propose solutions that will be taken moving forward to ensure a healthier working relationship.

Active Listening and Empathy

how to deal with difficult clients - active listening. a coach is listening and writing down client's issue

Sometimes clients just want to be heard or understood. Acknowledge and validate their feelings, and let them know that you’re there to help with their needs. Active listening serves as a good foundation for productive and effective client relationships.

Instead of trying to fix the problem right away, take the time to really listen. Pay full attention to their words and emotions. There might be times when you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view, but try to put yourself in their shoes, so you can offer a more constructive approach.

It’s also important not to start the conversation when your emotions are charged as this might escalate tension and conflict between you and your client. Take a deep breath and know coming from a place of empathy and understanding can go a long way.

Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

It’s important to establish boundaries and expectations right from the start. Use this opportunity to define the scope of your working relationship and goals. This prevents clients from having any unrealistic expectations.

Set boundaries around your response time, session schedules, and communication channels. 

Discuss your expected outcomes and deliverables with your clients and be transparent to prevent any misunderstanding. It’s also better to define the scope of responsibility between each party to encourage accountability.

Enforcing boundaries can prevent stress and protect your overall well-being and mental health. 

Offer Different Perspectives

Clients may be so fixated in their own thoughts and way of thinking that a different perspective can actually be helpful for them. This can also foster a more collaborative partnership and strengthen rapport. Presenting an alternative viewpoint can also encourage open-mindedness where they may be more willing to listen and entertain ideas they haven’t considered before. 

You can also strengthen your trust and relationship with your clients by letting them understand that you’re here to help them determine the best solution for their goals, and by offering any alternative perspectives not to be misconstrued as challenging their viewpoints.

Provide a Conflict Resolution Between Parties

If a situation escalates, stay composed. It’s important to approach the situation calmly to diffuse any tension. Maintain a positive attitude and steer the conversation towards a resolution.

Framing your responses positively can also impact the conversation. For example, instead of saying “We can’t do that,” try “Here’s what we can do.” Using positive language helps foster a more cooperative environment and build trust between parties.

Being professional when handling conflicts can also leave you with a lasting impression and a positive reputation. It’s also a good way of developing your communication and negotiation skills.

Know When To Let Go

a scissor placed on top of a red ribbon on the marble table symbolizing cutting ties

There may be times when cutting your losses can be a strategic decision for your business. If some clients remain difficult to deal with after trying everything out, it may be best to let them go.

Cutting ties with your client can preserve your mental well-being as well as your time and resources. This also allows you to preserve the quality of your work and opens opportunities. Just be sure to approach the situation respectfully and professionally.

Identifying Red Flags of a Difficult Client

It’s important to recognize the red flags of a potential difficult client to preemptively avoid any future problems. Of course, not all clients who exhibit these traits will be difficult for you, but these signs can indicate potential challenges on the horizon. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Resistant or question your process
  • Poor communication
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Not respecting boundaries that have been set forth

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Knowing how to deal with difficult clients is an essential skill for online coaches. It requires patience, empathy, and effective communication in order to find the best solution for you and your client.

Remember that handling difficult clients not only strengthens your abilities and experience as a coach, but they also serve as valuable lessons in terms of how you may want to modify your approach in your business and clients to ensure a more optimal experience moving forward.

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