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6 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Clients

6 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Clients

In a perfect world, your interior design roster would be full of clients who are decisive, open to your aesthetic vision, and low-maintenance. But no matter how many dream projects you’ve scored, you’ve probably worked with at least one client who is downright difficult. Whether they struggle to make a decision, text you constantly, or bring their baggage into the project, one thing’s for sure: This type of person makes your work more challenging.

“Determining a person’s own unique style, maximizing a budget, and finding ways to understand any other dynamics at play for a client leaves interior designers with an incredibly tall order,” says Brie Shelly, a Boston-based mental health therapist and consultant.

But just because you don’t see eye to eye with your client doesn’t mean the entire project has to be a nightmare. Below, three mental health experts break down ways to minimize conflict so you can focus on getting your job done and keeping your professional relationships intact.

Working with a bickering couple? Read the room.

Designing a home for a couple can be a rewarding opportunity, a chance to distill their personalities and dynamic into a beautiful space. However, problems can arise if your clients bring their personal drama into the project. Though a couple’s bickering might seem outside of your purview, Shelly encourages you to read the room. Chances are their conflict can shed some light on how to create a drama-free home.

“Don’t try to fix the problem,” she says. “Instead, ask informational questions and then listen. Think of yourself as collecting data while learning what is really at the core of the conflict.”

If money seems to be at the root of every argument, start to recommend budget-friendly fixtures and fabrics. Working with clients with drastically different tastes? Use your expertise to balance their two aesthetics. Shelly also recommends paying attention to who tends to be the final decision maker. That way, you can understand their needs while also considering the other person’s wishes.

“Ultimately, you’re not meant to be their therapist, but are there to help them love their space—so try to keep that as the focus,” she says.

Have a client who can’t make up their mind? Limit their options.

Regardless of its size, every design project is filled with many tiny decisions. While all these choices can feel understandably overwhelming for the end user, it can be frustrating to have your client change their mind every few days.

“Difficult people often need validation by other people, so they may change their minds depending on what they see in the homes of people they envy or value,” says Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and author. “The more vulnerable a person is to the assessment and validation of others, the more indecisive they will be.”

Durvasula recommends baking any supplementary fees into your initial proposal. “If you have to keep going back to the drawing board, make sure the costs associated with that are built into the front end,” she explains. “Even when it is in writing, some clients might try to dispute it.”

And recognize that your client might feel inundated with choices. “Many people will have design choice fatigue,” Durvasula notes. “Three [options] is usually a sweet spot. Even if they [choose] a hybrid from three proposals, it’s not as overwhelming.”

Does your client break boundaries? Write it down.

Establishing boundaries might seem easy, but enforcing them is a different story. However, if you don’t uphold your limits, your client might assume it’s okay to bend the rules.

To avoid any confusion, Shelly recommends having clear expectations outlined in your contract, emails, and planning documents. That way, you can politely refer back to your policy when things get out of line.

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