Dealing with Ideologically Inflexible Clients
December 4, 2014 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Calling all business consultants, designers, life coaches, etc! Have you ever had a client who wanted things to be different (more revenue, a larger client base, a new look for their branding, etc) but was unwilling to make the changes necessary for that to happen? Or had a client involved in a brainstorming process where their rigidity of thinking held up the entire group?

How did you cope? What did you do? (Assume dropping the client is an absolute last resort) I'm looking for work-arounds, conversational techniques, coaching ideas, anything that could help get a client unstuck, gain perspective, and/or shift their perceptions. Someone recently recommended the Art of Thinking as a way to identify different thinking styles and work with them, but I feel like I need to cast a wider net here. Thank you, HiveMind!
posted by ananci to Human Relations (5 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Watch CNBC's The Profit with Marcus Lemon is. It's his stock in trade.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:38 PM on December 4, 2014

Best answer: I run a lot of meetings. When I come across people who can't quite make it all the way out of the box, I find they generally fall into two groups: Those who are primarily cost-focused, and those who are primarily barrier-focused.

If it seems like the client is the former, I would say something like, "For the purposes of this one meeting, we're going to forget that money exists. In a world where we can afford anything, what are some of the things we could do that would get you from where you are to where you want to be?" Then throw out something completely ridiculous like, "Let's promise every client who signs up with us a brand new 60-inch TV." The laughter should help lighten people up a little and might open the door to more realistic, but still out of the box ideas.

For someone who's barrier-focused, sometimes you just have to get at solutions from that side of the gap. If they want a new look for the branding - what are some of the barriers they can see to getting that? Too hard to get executive buy-in? Too much already-existing stuff that would be wasted if it had old branding on it? And then work through each barrier to see what ideas they have for resolving them.

Another trick that's hard to do is just ask a question, and then wait for someone to answer it. If someone throws out a barrier, ask, "How could we remove that barrier to get to your goal?" and then let the silence sit until someone speaks. Somebody WILL speak, and it shouldn't be the person who asks the question. Even if it takes longer than you're comfortable with, don't be the one to blink. Eventually, somebody will break the silence, and getting them talking is half the battle.
posted by kythuen at 12:53 PM on December 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Ask a lot of questions, leading questions. Adapt the Socratic method to your conversations with these inflexible clients. People will be more willing to adopt a position that they've arrived at themselves as opposed to one that is told to them by someone else.

So your questions would be along the lines of: What outcomes do we want this project to have? What outcomes are we currently getting? What would it take to get to those better outcomes? Why don't you think "x" is currently working? What do we need to get it to work better? What would someone who doesn't know your company think when they see "x"? What do we want them to think? What could we change to get them to think that? What actions do we want them to take? Why aren't they taking those actions right now? You called on me to help you solve a problem. Will what you're thinking of doing solve that problem? What would be the consequences if this problem isn't solved?

Use these questions to create uncertainty. Get them confused. You can gently offer some of your answers to help move them along but let them arrive at their own answers themselves and realize that they may end up being different than what you originally thought they should be.
posted by Leontine at 2:24 PM on December 4, 2014

Have you considered a new location for your next conversation? For example, going to their location can help you understand the issues they may be facing that are blocking them.
posted by gillianr at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2014

Following up on kyuthen's suggestions, you can ask a question this way "We know this is impossible, but if it wasn't imossible, what would the solution look like?" Often a feasible solution emerges.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:22 PM on December 5, 2014

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