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Transparency and Trust: Navigating Delicate Topics with Clients

Oct. 31, 2023
Learn how to navigate sensitive topics with clients with ease to make the best of each challenging situation.

Difficult conversations are hardly ever enjoyable ones. When the topic pertains to your work, it can be even more intimidating. As a contractor, you will inevitably run into some issues that need to be discussed with clients. You’re working with the public, whether that’s in their home, office building, or other space that needs improvement. You’re there because there is an issue that needs fixing, whether that’s cosmetic or necessary for the function of the space. This means that tensions may already be running high. Learn how to navigate sensitive topics with clients with ease to make the best of each challenging situation and propel your business to new heights.

Approaching Challenging Info with Care

The business of contracting is built on trust. Clients bring you into their homes to make professional judgments and adjustments. They rely on you to provide them with good service, and sometimes that involves bad news. Sensitivity and tact in communication can positively impact your client relationships, project success, and professional reputation. Some of those positive effects include:

●     Building trust and rapport

●      Avoiding misunderstandings and conflict

●      Minimizing setbacks

●      Enhancing your ability to adapt efficiently

●      Preserving your professionalism

●      Staying within legal and ethical parameters

●      Avoiding negative publicity

●      Building long-lasting relationships and word-of-mouth recommendations

Remember that each client and project is unique, so adapting your communication style to their specific needs is key to navigating sensitive topics effectively.

Sources of Client Frustration

The reasons why clients may become frustrated while working with you can have many origins. It’s important to remember not to take any negative reactions too personally—as long as you remain committed to improving your processes. The client could be simply having a bad day, or they could be dissatisfied with any number of external factors, such as:

●      Delays

●      Cost

●      Mishaps

●      Project changes

●      Unrealistic expectations

Sometimes, project delays are unavoidable such as timeline pushbacks due to weather or supply chain issues. Other times, a client could be making things more complicated for themselves. If they expect to have access to you at all hours and are frustrated that you aren’t answering a 3:00 AM phone call, this may call for a boundary to be set by you, the contractor. If the client seems shocked by the final cost breakdown but was given an accurate estimate, this may be something that needs to be approached with firm yet sensitive language.

Before having a difficult conversation with a dissatisfied client, analyze the source of their issue and why you think they are having qualms about your work. This will guide you when deciding how to broach the topic and the best way to mitigate any conflict or negative outcomes.

How To Handle Delicate Topics 

Whatever the case may be, your professional reputation relies on your ability to mitigate any damages done by interactions with a disgruntled client. The aftermath can affect your reputation, and you can end up going into other customer jobs expecting the worst. Instead of letting negative interactions rule your business, let your business rule those interactions first. A great contractor will know how to navigate delicate topics with clients and still be able to execute projects to the best of their ability. Use the following tips to traverse these waters with ease.

Reducing Your Anxiety

As a contractor passionate about your handiwork, you may not have expected to have to hone your social skills so much on the job. However, it’s crucial to remain calm and collected during difficult conversations with clients so that you can get the most out of these interactions and produce an outstanding project result. Too much anxiety can negatively affect your communication skills by distracting you, causing you to overthink, and even resulting in physical discomfort.

If you notice that you are becoming anxious about bringing up uncomfortable topics with your client, it’s important to be mindful. Practicing grounding yourself can bring you back to reality and allow you to think more clearly for the conversation ahead. Try using the five senses grounding technique, counting down from five and naming the five things you see, four things you touch, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. If it helps, bring a stress ball or gum to aid in those sensory experiences. This can bring your anxiety levels down and allow you to think more clearly, express yourself better, and come to a collaborative agreement with your client.

Be Transparent as Soon as Possible

As soon as you are aware of a definite setback in your project progress, it’s important to keep your clients informed. If they realize that you were keeping mistakes, extra costs, or delays from them—even with good intentions—for any period of time, this can make them view you and your work more negatively. In contrast, if you’re upfront and honest about the goings-on of the project at hand clients will feel they can trust you and your opinion and will be more likely to work with you again in the future.

Listen and Have Empathy

Once you have broken bad news or brought up a sensitive subject with your client, give them space to voice their opinions. Things may become tense, but it’s important to talk less and listen to clients more during this time. They may be initially shocked and need to work through some difficult emotions, but feeling heard is likely their top priority. If you allow them to voice their concerns and actively listen by providing nonverbal feedback, they will feel as though you care about what they have to say and will be more likely to work with you on a solution moving forward.

Take Accountability When Necessary

Depending on the situation, you may be at fault. Whatever aspects you can and feel you should apologize for, do so and let the clients know you are working on a solution. By accepting accountability, you can maintain trust and show dedication to client satisfaction. It’s normal to make mistakes, and owning up to them can show clients that you genuinely care about their well-being and the outcome of the project.

Provide Solutions

Following a difficult conversation with a client, it’s responsible to prioritize providing concrete and constructive solutions to move forward effectively. This demonstrates commitment to the client's needs and project success. Whether it involves revising project plans, adjusting timelines, or addressing any concerns raised, presenting well-thought-out solutions showcases professionalism and a proactive approach to problem-solving. Open communication and a collaborative attitude in implementing these solutions can help rebuild trust and ensure a smoother path ahead for both you and the client.

Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, workers, and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for the community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

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