Solving Conflict with a Client: 3 Hypothetical Situations


Written by Geoff Woliner

Geoff Woliner is an Arlington, VA-based event emcee and founder of Winning Wit, LLC, a company which helps people write and deliver the best presentations of their lives through the application of stand-up comedy techniques.

October 13, 2014

Relationships with clients are complex, tricky things. They’re very similar to the dynamic a teenager has with their parents. You love them, you hate them, you laugh with them, you fight with them, but ultimately, you depend on them. This wrinkle in the relationship creates a scenario where simply walking away from a conflict isn’t always a viable option. These folks pay the bills, but they also have to operate within mutually agreed upon expectations.

This is why effective conflict management with clients is critical to your success as a meeting planner. Here are some common scenarios, and the best ways to handle them.

1) You’ve planned an event with an expectation of 800 attendees, and the client turns around a week before the event and tells you to prepare for 200 more.

Initial reaction: “WHAT!?! How am I going to accommodate room blocks? Catering? Seating?”

How to approach the client: “I understand your need to accommodate more attendees, but as you know, we have very limited space at these venues and hotels. I’m going to check with our vendors to see exactly what their capacity is, then get back with you. We’ll do the best we can to take care of as many people as we can”.

Why this works: Demonstration of a good faith effort, while also maintaining realistic expectations. Clients expect that you’ll go the extra mile for them, but they have to know you’re not Superman / Wonder Woman.

2) Too many cooks in the kitchen. The client has multiple people giving you mixed messages about how the event should go.

Initial reaction: “How can these people be serious about a great event when they can’t even get on the same page?”

How to approach the client: “Let’s set up a time to chat with all of the stakeholders in person or via conference call. Each of you present the three most important things you want to see accomplished. We’ll find the common ground, and work inside out from there. Then we’ll put the points of contention to discussion, where we’ll break down the value and challenges each present.”

Why this works: Marginalizing anyone, even if most others agree, can create toxicity in the planning process. Making everyone feel like a valued stakeholder will encourage their participation in a positive, productive way and make everything smoother.”

3) Budget expectations are constantly shifting and putting you in a difficult spot with vendors.

Initial reaction: “What do they want from me? A free event? This is ridiculous.”

How to approach the client: “We initially discussed what we want to accomplish with x, y and z budget parameters, and I went out and sourced vendors based on these numbers. I have strong relationships with these vendors and need to keep them strong to ensure a great event for you. What are the things you want to focus on the most? Let’s keep budget integrity there. I want your most important priorities to receive the most attention.”

Why this works: The client needs to appreciate that there are many spokes on the wheel involved with making THEIR event great. If not for you, understanding that constantly shifting expectations can put their event behind the 8 ball will motivate them to better communicate what resources are available. Always make it about them and their event.

At the end of the day, effectively managing conflicts with clients comes down to making them feel valued regardless of the circumstance, putting the success of their event front and center in their minds, and setting reasonable expectations. Always keep your cool. Always communicate from a place of reason, and more often than not, you’ll see the same respect reciprocated.

Do you agree or disagree with the advice given above? Let us know in the comments section below. Have you had a sticky client situation occur that you weren’t sure how to handle? Send us the story and we’ll post it and ask our readers to help you resolve the issue.

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