Very often, conflicts are cast as something terrible, something that happens between picky customers and stubborn contractors and needs to be avoided at all costs. However, many conflicts of this kind have very mundane reasons that are far from the intolerable character of clients or the haughtiness of people doing the job. If you know where to look for the roots of conflict and how to deal with it, you can become a better contractor and communicator. And in all cases, it will bring the team together and build up your reputation with potential clients.

What are the reasons for conflicts with clients?

To begin with, most conflicts arise from:
  • basic miscommunication,
  • differing views on how everything should be done,
  • unpredictable changes in visions or concepts,
  • contradictory expectations,
  • personal incompatibility (rarely, but it also happens).

With this in mind, you can figure out how to resolve conflict and find a solution. In case of miscommunication, it will be a thorough and civil explanation. In case of contradicting expectations, it will be a careful alignment of them and, again, an explanation of all why’s and hows. You get a general idea.

Typical ways to approach the conflict

We all have our inborn preferences in behaviour, even if we do not notice them. So, to apply the solutions mentioned above, you need to know if you approach the conflict correctly from the start. Why does that matter? Because if your natural style is avoidance or ignoring, you won’t be able to do anything useful about the situation. Thus, before managing problems with others, see if you don’t have problems with conflict management yourself:
  • ignore it (in the hope the problem dissolves or fixes itself on its own);
  • give in (accommodate the requests);
  • fight (compete and push for imposing your agenda);
  • collaborate (find a standard solution that will suit both parties involved).
Of all mentioned approaches, the most reasonable is the last one, but the ‘fight’ or ‘compete’ approach also makes sense if the client’s demands are totally unreasonable or go against the concept of the project. You are not afraid of losing this client.

Roadmap for settling a conflict with a customer

So, whether you choose collaboration or competition, you will have to use the following roadmap to manage the situation in the best possible way. Even competition should be civil and reasonable, and who knows, maybe it will be collaboration, too.
  1. Acknowledge the problem openly. Saying it loud and admitting that the problem exists and should be solved is halfway to a solution. At this point, some customers may stop pushing the point altogether, happy that their concerns were heard.
  2. Gather information and listen carefully to what a customer says (and writes). It helps you to understand what really happens and what to do about it, but it also makes the client feel heard and seen. It’s an important psychological factor.
  3. Show understanding, empathy, and your willingness to look from their perspective. If you understand what a customer feels and can express this understanding, we tell you that you have won their trust. This is also an important step; without it, any solution, even the best one, will look like a random act taken condescendingly just to keep a client quiet.
  4. Return to facts and review them thoroughly. Now that you are on the same footing, you can explain again what happened or is happening and what can be done about it. Here, you need to be polite but firm and say what actually happens, not what a customer feels about it. Now facts matter, not feelings.
  5. Arrive at a solution and explain it to the customer in detail (to avoid creating new misunderstandings). With facts aligned and problems visible, you can offer a ready answer or ask a customer what would be OK in this situation. Just be sure to nudge them gently in the right direction. It is you who controls the position and manages the conflict, after all.
  6. Be polite but firm about the solution agreed upon earlier. When everything is settled, implement the solution. A customer may change their mind again, but don’t give in time after time. Stick to the agreed actions and remind the client about this agreement. For most clients, it will be more than enough. For some of them, unfortunately, only a change of contractor is the solution. So part with them civilly and gracefully. That’s also a part of conflict management.
You will become a better conflict manager with more practice, but we wish you as little conflict as possible in your work and customer communication!