5 Simple Ways to Work Through Friction With Clients

We recently ran into a billing dispute with a large client. It’s a six-figure dispute. The client feels that we didn’t communicate a change order, and I beg to differ. Who’s right? Does it matter? Has it ever mattered? The perception matters. 
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We recently ran into a billing dispute with a large client. It’s a six-figure dispute. 

The client feels that we didn’t communicate a change order, and I beg to differ. Who’s right? Does it matter? Has it ever mattered? The perception matters. 

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Whenever I find myself in these situations, I think of the larger relationship first and try to work toward an amicable resolution. I’m astounded by the number of people in this world who choose to view things through the lens of having to be right in a conflict, forever needing to have the last word. It’s a constant struggle, and I try to use a few simple methods to work through friction with clients, employees, and loved ones.

1. Slow It Down. 

If you react to an angry person with anger, then you’re playing their game. Try playing a different game. Acknowledge their frustration and pivot to a positive point, while making them feel heard. Ninety-nine percent of communication seems to boil down to the other side feeling like they’re being heard and acknowledged. Make eye contact and demonstrate with your body language that you’re tuned in.

2. Marinate. 

Instead of rushing to judgment or making rash decisions, step away from the conflict. I like to go for a run after a tense exchange. It helps to blow off steam and often renders a solution to my problem. Twenty-four hours is my usual personal minimum for marinating. It’s amazing what one day can do for your perspective. Everyone has his or her own version of relieving stress and marinating. What’s yours? 

3. Recap and Restate. 

When you repeat back to someone what you thought that you heard, it accomplishes two goals. You’re letting the other person know you listened and setting yourself up for agreement (after all, if you’re accurate, they’ll nod in the affirmative. This is a first step toward conflict resolution).

4. Ask What’s Fair. 

Most people are fundamentally oriented toward fairness and equitable resolution. After laying out your side of the story, ask what’s fair. I’m always amazed at the responses I get from this one. From there, it’s an easy transition into a conversation around meeting in the middle. Here’s an example:

Me: “So you see, Mr. Customer, my guys worked 500 extra hours installing the product you mandated we put in even though we recommended against it three times. What do you think is fair?”

Customer: “How about you discount the bill 25 percent?”

Me: “Why don’t we meet in the middle at 13.5 percent?

Customer: “Deal.” 

5. Implement Quickly. 

Once you agree to a resolution, make it happen quickly and put it behind you. The faster you can put daylight between you and the friction, the faster your relationship gets back on track.

Have you ever tried to be right and found it wasn’t all that great? Post in the comments below and share your stories. Because you’re in the CE channel (where irrational certitude can pop up from time to time), I know you’ve had experience with this one.

Stay frosty and see you in the field.

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