Listener Questions: Dealing With Difficult Clients | GBP037

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In today’s episode, we have another listener question session and, in this one, we’re talking specifically about dealing with difficult clients. If you’d like to submit a question for a future episode, please share your query at We may share your question on the podcast and provide insights as well as some tips and strategies around them. The question of dealing with difficult clients came to us directly after one of our listeners reached out.

Can you do an episode on dealing with recovering from difficult clients? 

This question came from someone who had been through a very difficult client business relationship over a pretty significant period of time. The work, as well as the sudden termination, were very stressful within her business.

To answer this question, Chris dug into his own past, revisiting his first clients as well as past employment experience.

The first step is preventative: establish filters. 

Setting the correct filters will help you sign the right clients in the first place.

  • Set expectations.
    Prepare a good project brief to ensure both you and your client know what will be expected, the timeline for the project and what success looks like.
  • Price your project well.
    Bargain basement pricing will attract bargain basement clients. Set your prices based on your experience, ability, the project brief, and ensure you incorporate any related expenses. Reasonable pricing will help you attract reasonable clients.
  • Research potential clients.
    Who do you want to work with? What kind of person do you want to work with? Put some thought to the type of clients you walk, then do the research to ensure potential clients align.
  • Determine your own key performance indicators.
    Identify what you value in a good working relationship. Incorporate this into your research prior to signing a client and continue to hold your relationship to these key indicators as you move forward.

Learn to recognize a repetitive strain injury. 

Repetitive strain injuries can be caused by, “repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions”. If we apply this to our emotions, a repetitive strain injury can appear when we repeatedly experience a stressor.

For Chris, he experienced repeated stress in his first job after school. He was working up to 70 hours a week as well as his graduate school work on top of that. At first, he loved it. It was a collaborative team environment in an industry he enjoyed.

However, when his industry took a downturn, the atmosphere at work changed. Management changed and Chris lost his sense of alignment. Project goals weren’t being achieved. The job wasn’t as fun anymore. These negative experiences kept happening over and over. Repetitive strain

Then, a new position became available. Chris wanted to put his name forward. “In my mind, I gave my blood, sweat and tears to the company for five years, for half a decade. I did my graduate work aligned with the company so that we could grow together.”

But he was passed over. And it became that hard stop for Chris. Where it finally clued into him that it was time to move on.

To identify whether you’re experiencing a repetitive strain injury, ask yourself:

  • Is this continually happening over and over again?
  • Is it causing you stress in your life?

If the answers are yes, it may not necessarily indicate you need to terminate that relationship. But it is something to keep an eye on as it may lead to burnout over the long term.

Five considerations if you are experiencing a repetitive strain injury:

Remember that the customer is not always right.
As Henry Ford said, ““If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Identify whether or not you are dealing with a challenging project or a challenging client.

Use the NEAT process to communicate when things go wrong.
Normal, Expect, Accept and Tidy. When something goes wrong, remind yourself,  “This is normal. It happens in the day-to-day business. We expect it to happen. I’m willing to accept it. Now, let’s tidy it up and move forward.”

When they go high, we go low.
When they’re high energy, when they’re aggravated, when they’re excited and loud, go the opposite way. Slow down. Slow down your voice, lower your voice. That will help diffuse the situation.

After each conversation, meeting, or email, circle back with a synopsis. This really helps avoid miscommunication and provides a touchpoint when those things are addressed later.

Acknowledge when enough is enough. 

When it all becomes too much or when the relationship is no longer positive for your life, you may be the one to put a foot down. Take the step to terminate and move forward.

Key indicators may include:

  • Do you lack connection?
  • Is your work being acknowledged and valued?
  • Are you receiving feedback or recognition for your time and effort?
  • Are offensive, hurtful, or irreversible statements being made?

Imagine life after. 

Visualization and goal setting can help you move on from a difficult client. Take some time to think about what life would be like if the relationship changed or if the collaboration ended. Visualize what a good working relationship could be like.

Make space for new opportunities.

Consider, also, that leaving this relationship behind may open up new opportunities in your life and business. For Chris, leaving employment behind allowed him to finish his graduate research and start a blogging business based on combustible dust.  It allowed him to open GradBlogger, to build a team, and to make change in the world. All possible because of the space that ending that relationship made available.

End your relationship respectfully.

Don’t let this difficult client haunt you. This is going to depend on what your scenario is, how long you’ve worked with that client, personal things. If they’re in the local area, if they’re in your industry, burning bridges, be considerate. You can even help with the transition. Don’t leave them in a bind, but don’t kill yourself doing it either.

Be prepared to grieve. 

There’s a lot of joy in moving to these next phases of your life. But this is a loss. Be prepared to grieve once you end these relationships, especially if they’d been long term. You may experience the physical symptoms as well as emotional highs and lows. It’s a normal, healthy process.

Thank you to our listener for the opportunity to explore the top of difficult clients in this episode. Again, if you have a question, you can submit it at

If you’ve had to fire a client or if you’ve been in these relationships, tell us about it! Share in the comments below or you can tag GradBlogger on Instagram or Twitter to let us know about your experiences and let the other listeners know as well. How did you get over the relationship? How did you get through? What tips do you have and strategies do you have on people to get through that as well?

Resources from this episode

GradBlogger: Twitter | Instagram

Previous Episodes
The power of the daily ten-item brainstorm | GBP035
Listener questions: hiring on Upwork, finding service clients and list unsubscribes | GBP033
Listener questions on creating content, overwhelm and business trademarking | GBP028

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