Honesty really is the best policy
Conflict costs us on every level – it has the potential to sap all of our resources. Time, money, stress, energy, mental & emotional composure – all go out the window when two people who each feel threatened attempt to communicate from a place of fear, or worse, slam their barriers up, entrench themselves in their positions, and pay others to go to war for them.
Rather than putting up barbed wire fences and beginning from this entrenched positional thinking, I will always encourage you to take a completely different path – one that acknowledges the reality of conflict but does not fear it, because you have set yourself and your clients up for success with clear, honest communication.
Ask your clients to complain
I am a huge believer in inviting honest feedback at every stage of your relationship with your clients – including explicitly asking for negative feedback.
Tell your clients at every opportunity how much you care about making sure their experience with you meets their needs. Practice reframing, reflecting and summarising their communications to ensure that you have heard them correctly when they are explaining why they have come to see you.
After your service has been delivered, send them a testimonial request (unless you are in an industry where collecting testimonials is prohibited, in which case, you can still ask for feedback but you can’t publish it.) In your testimonial request, ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no) and explicitly invite them to let you know if there is any aspect of your work that they are not happy with or that could be improved.
This takes a certain degree of bravery, but having done so for many years, I can assure you that those few negative comments I receive are as welcome and important to my business as all of the rave reviews, as they show me areas that need my attention, which I might not otherwise see.
Treat your clients as allies, not enemies. You would never ask an enemy to tell you what you are doing wrong, but if you ask an ally – someone who is on your side – and encourage them to tell you truthfully – you can gain a much deeper understanding about their experience of working with you and how you can continue to improve.
Truth in advertising
The flip side of this coin is being honest with your clients, as well.
Too often I hear of coaches and marketing experts recommending that you gloss over less desirable aspects of your service in order to make the sale. I have worked with many service providers who simply assumed that because I had paid them, I knew what I was getting. Often, I have leapt on an offer because I was keen to work with that person, but the lack of details and care about my experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, it tarnished my whole experience.
Take the time to soothe your clients’ anxiety by giving them enough details in advance that they know what to expect. If you don’t want to put that much detail on your sales page, your terms of service or contract is the perfect place for it.
I also strongly recommend allowing potential clients the time to make fully informed decisions instead of rushing someone into a sale. I see sales calls as an opportunity to answer questions and educate potential clients about my services, and I try to release any attachment to the outcome. I have clients who have purchased months after a discovery call, telling me they appreciated the opportunity to save up, or consult with their partner, or even to do some comparative shopping.
The important point is not to leave them guessing about the how, why, when and what of working with you, because the more comfortable they feel about the process, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their experience.
Ghosting is ghastly
Effective communication is essential throughout the client relationship.
One of the biggest causes of conflict that I hear people complaining about is when someone goes completely silent in the middle of working together. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, but it is commonly because you have become overwhelmed, and don’t know how to fix an issue quickly, so you keep putting it off into the too-hard basket intending to deal with it later, while the guilt and shame builds and builds, making it even harder to reach out and let the other person know what is going on.
Check in with your clients often during the process of working together to see how they are travelling and whether they have any concerns. You can make this easy for yourself by identifying appropriate check in points and scripting email templates to send out at predetermined intervals. (If you have bought a DIY Pack from me, you will have received my automated “lovingly nagging” emails that remind you to book in your Accountability Action Session – or tell me if you are unhappy for any reason.) It is so much easier to have all of this mapped out and ready to go in advance, rather than letting your communication systems collapse whenever you get busy.
If you are service provider and you experience an unexpected problem or a delay arises, tell your client about it honestly as soon as possible and seek their input into any solution you propose. I admit I can be really bad at this, so in my contract for custom drafting, I tell that to clients with all honesty so they know what to expect, and what to do about it!
Here is what I say:
“If you are waiting for a document and have not heard from me, it is possible that it has been pushed down my list by other work, and I am most likely fighting overwhelm. Please reach out (gently) to see how I am going. I will bump you to the top of the queue, if possible, or update you on expected time for delivery. If I don’t hear from you, rest assured, I have not forgotten about you. I will gratefully assume you are waiting patiently and will send your document through as soon as I can.”
Giving myself this kind of space – and making sure my clients know to expect it – has been hugely helpful, as neither of us need to feel anxious about what is expected of us.
How I can help
If you are experiencing a conflict situation that you are not sure how to deal with, book a Conflict with Compassion consultation.
Sometimes all you need is an opportunity to vent to a neutral third party who can help you see the options available to you.