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Managing Client Relationships

Even the best run organizations occasionally run into difficult situations with clients, consultants, and vendors. Often times it is not just a business process that has gone a-rye, it is the relationship of the people managing the situation. So how is it that we manage difficult problems and how is it that we coach all the members of our organization to manage crisis to their (and their company's) advantage. Here are some helpful tips:

Treat everyone (clients, consultants and vendors) equally, realizing that everyone from a secretary to a CEO of a corporation can and will impact your business (in both a positive and a negative way).

Have a written philosophy stating your company's position on how it expects its employees to interact with people (both inside and outside of the organization).

Regularly remind your personnel of your policy and enforce it when necessary. When your corporate culture fully adopts the concept, the peer pressure will go a long way to enforcing your philosophy.

Well that sounds way too simple, doesn't it? Yes, but it is a starting point. So the next issue to consider is, "how do we treat everyone with respect and equality without being complete pushovers?" After all, you will sometimes have to say "no." Here are some tips:

Approach all of your difficult issues with a smile. Sounds silly, but it helps get you in the right frame of mind.

Yes, it has to be said again, treat everyone with respect and equality and many of your conflicts will never even happen.

When the pot begins to boil with someone (because you don't agree with their position, you can't help them, they are incorrect, etc.) then make certain that the person you are working with knows with certainty that they have been heard and understood (without sarcasm or attitude). Try repeating your understanding to them so that they hear you have heard. This effort alone will take enough of the edge off to resolve the issue.

Now the hard part. You need to say "no" or you "just can't take it anymore." Here's the time. You need to first let the person know they have been heard and then find a way to back out of the heat. It is OK to not provide them an affirmative answer immediately.

Take the time to regroup. Back out of the conversation, take time to ponder the situation, and talk it over with colleagues. Sometimes you will go back to the person and agree, other times you will go back to that person with a decision they do not want to hear. The difference is that your client has been heard and they know they have been heard. This alone will help you to end the situation on a good note.

In circumstances where you know that your "no" will not be well received (and could sever a relationship), buying time will provide you the opportunity to think about the situation with a cool head. More importantly, you will have the opportunity to talk about the situation with your colleagues, manager, or partner. Remember, that you alone (even if you are the partner of a company) should not have the authority to sever a relationship.

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Johnny Flynn

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