“Tact: A keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations.”
Clients hire consultants to help them with a problem. In the Oracle contracting world, the client may need a new system or modification to their existing system and they do not have the technical expertise to perform the needed work. They hire a team of consultants to assist them with their project.
As the project progresses, we may see problems or issues that need to be addressed. We might also be asked directly by the client to comment on an issue that is in our particular domain. In either case, the client expects us to provide them with a competent recommendation for a solution. There are occasions when, much to our surprise, when the client resists our recommendations. This can be a frustrating experience that has the potential to increase tension in our relationship.
How should you handle the situation when you have a professional disagreement with your client? First and most importantly – don’t take it personally. It is hard to do, but you need to separate any emotional attachment to your ideas. Once you’ve done that (as best you can), then the next step is to try and understand the client’s position. Generally, resistance to ideas comes because the client is feeling either loss of control or vulnerability. This can be difficult to understand and is probably something that most clients won’t express directly. You’ll rarely hear a client say “Your solution makes me feel vulnerable.” However, your mere presence can make the client feel vulnerable – they are at your mercy to do the job right.
The focus of your conversations when discussing a recommendation or solution should be on the objectives and outcomes. If you can get agreement on what it is that you are trying to achieve first, then it will be easier to get agreement on how to achieve it. Plus, by focusing on the outcomes, you can assess if the client doesn’t agree that your recommendation will meet those outcomes.
Next, work together with the client to produce a solution. Ask them specifically what they don’t like about your recommendation and how they might change it. Get them to elaborate in some detail and then incorporate what makes sense into the final solution. This brings them on board and helps them take some degree of ownership, which can minimize that sense of loss of control or vulnerability.
Finally, accept that some solutions may have to be less than ideal for non-technical reasons. There may be political/organizational reasons why one way of achieving an outcome is more acceptable than others. For example, it could be for simple reasons such as the CFO doesn’t like reports formatted a particular way.
If you are able to not take resistance personally, understand the client’s position, and let them be part of the solution, you can tactfully handle disagreements and achieve better outcomes with your clients.