How Interior Designers Can Manage Difficult Clients

Working with difficult clients is inevitable for interior designers. Why? Because both interior designers and their clients are human beings. As such, misunderstandings and personality clashes will happen. Yet this doesn’t mean we should simply shrug our shoulders. And utter ‘C’est la vie’. Because there’s lots of things we can do as interior designers firstly to avoid difficult situations with clients. Then make them easier when tensions rise.

5 Ways Interior Designers Can Manage Difficult Clients

And it’s 5 ways interior designers can manage difficult clients. Not 5 steps. That’s to say, you don’t need to do all of them. Or follow them in a particular order. In the same vein, using one method doesn’t stop another one being used later. So here they are, the 5 ways interior designers can manage difficult clients:

•   Prevent difficult situations
•   Don’t respond immediately
•   Include them in the project
•   Drip feed bad news
•   Learn and grow

Prevent Difficult Situations

Prevent difficult situations. Yes, it sounds obvious. But there are things we can do, or not do, to stop client interactions becoming troublesome. For example, seek to reach a common understanding from the outset. A simple infographic on your website or welcome pack that sets out how the project will unfold can work wonders. Also, consider setting out what the client can expect from you and when, and vice versa, in a letter of agreement. In simple terms. And try to avoid using lots of legal phrases.

Talking of simple terms, how we speak to clients can make a huge difference. Last month, my MyDesignHub Business Insight Blog was about using the client’s language. And not industry terms. Put another way, jargon. Jargon creates confusion. Next frustration. Followed by mistrust. As a result, difficulties won’t be far behind. All of which are preventable. By using language you both understand.


Don’t Respond Immediately

To clarify, ‘don’t respond immediately’ does not mean ignore the problem. However, try to not come up with counterarguments. By pointing out why you think your client’s view is flawed. Or with a tit-for-tat approach. As it can come across as confrontational. And confrontation often ends in one or two ways. One or both of you retreating inside themselves. With simmering feelings of resentment. Or, even worse, escalation into a heated argument.

Instead, give the client time and space to express their views. And take a leaf out of Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, ‘Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood’. Ask questions, so you can appreciate where your client is coming from. Then summarise what you’ve learnt back to them. This makes them feel heard. Moreover, hearing a summary of what they’ve said could cause them to reflect on their point of view. Or even change their mind. Without you ever disagreeing with them!

Include Them in the Project

The words ‘include the client in the project’ may make many interior designers’ hearts sink. But I don’t suggest the client becomes the project’s designer-in-chief. Instead, present the client’s ideas back to them as an alternative to your own design solutions. Give the client the opportunity to decide your design is the better option. Put differently, guide them towards, rather than direct them to, the best outcome.

Drip Feed Bad News

Of course, things will always go wrong. No matter how tempting, don’t give the client all the bad news in one hit. Because it can overwhelm them. And cause them to go into denial or blame mode. That becomes another problem that you need to solve. As an alternative, adopt an approach developed for the medical profession, the Acceptance Curve. If you want to know more about the Acceptance Curve, its application and history, further information is available here. [https://yourcoachapproach.co.uk/interior-design-business-tips-and-tricks/]

To give a simple explanation, people often react negatively to bad news before accepting the situation and moving on. Ironically, people will accept a situation and move on quicker if given more time and less information. So, don’t immediately inform the client of the problem and its impact on the project. First say, ‘something might not be going very well’. And wait before you go to the next level. ‘This has gone wrong, but we’re looking at how to solve it’. Next, describe the options available. Only once you’ve worked through the other steps, state the problem and what it means for the project.

Learn and Grow

We can always take at least one positive from a difficult situation. That is, we can learn for next time. Also, concentrating on positives, not negatives, is essential for our mental wellbeing.

More than that, the experience provides a marvellous resource when a similar pattern emerges with a future client. As you have the opportunity to nip the problem in the bud. By telling a really compelling story. About a time when a client insisted on so-and-so. And how it could have turned out. Tell the story carefully. Avoid phrases ‘like you’ or ‘similar to this situation’. Instead, allow the client to join the dots on their own.

5 Ways Interior Designers Can Manage Difficult Clients

In summary, interior designers have a lot of tools at their disposal to manage difficult clients. But interior designers don’t just have to manage difficult clients. Tensions can arise with suppliers, partners, competitors, employees. In short, any other human being we work with. And that’s the beauty of the 5 ways we’ve discussed. We can apply them to any difficult interaction we may face.

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