How Difficult Clients Can Make You a Better Event Planner

Have you ever had a client so difficult, you considered leaving the industry? If so, we’re glad you didn’t. It may have actually been a boost for your professional development. Here’s what you probably gained from the experience.

In college, I signed up for every class this one professor taught. He was unbelievably hard, demanded only the best from his students, rarely gave out A’s, and expected everyone in class to be able to defend their arguments with something more than catchphrases and ideologies. While he did my GPA (grade point average) no favors, he taught me more than any other teacher. I am better for having known him.

The same can be true of demanding clients. At first, the pressure behind working with them can feel unbearable but after the experience is over, you may realize you’ve benefited from your time together. Here’s why demanding clients can offer some of your best professional development opportunities.

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How Difficult Clients Can Make You a Better Event Planner

9 Ways Difficult Clients Make You a Better Eventprof

All of the advice below is based on you handling a difficult client successfully. If you work to improve your relationship with them, you will learn the following things and become a better event planner. Difficult clients train you in the following ways:

1. They Improve Your Communication Abilities

How do you become a better communicator? You communicate. At no other time in your event planning career is communication as essential as it is when dealing with a difficult client. Difficult clients will give your communication muscles a workout. They’re demanding and may require you to adjust your current communication platforms to fit their needs. But the more you practice communicating, the better you’ll become at it.

2. Difficult Relationships Improve Your Flexibility

When it comes to a difficult relationship you will either become more flexible or get out of it. With a client, the latter isn’t always an option so you must look for ways to improve the relationship. One of those ways is becoming more flexible and learning the art of compromise.

3. You Learn to Mirror

One of the psychological tools experts tell you to use when working with a difficult person is mirroring. This means adjusting your pattern of speech, tone, even body language to match theirs. When you come in line with the way they are communicating, they are more apt to be receptive. Mirroring is an excellent skill to learn in order to connect with all sorts of people, not just your difficult clients. It can make an attendee feel understood or a sponsor feel like you’re ‘their kind of person.’

4. You Learn Perspective

Everyone’s opinions are shaped by their perspective. As the old wisdom goes, an elephant looks very different up close than it does across the plain. Dealing with a difficult client will teach you to add ‘in my experience’ to sentences more often than dealing with someone who sees everything the way you do. By adding these simple words you are reminded that your experience varies from others. While your experience may make you an expert in event planning, you can easily see that your client’s experience is different but no less valuable. Dealing with a difficult client teaches you empathy.

5. You Use More Measurables

Stories breed intimacy, while stats yield belief when dealing with difficult people. While you may already be using data to make your case, if you have a difficult client, this is one thing you will learn quickly. Data will become your friend because you will need it to prove your arguments and your value. You may even be able to add ‘data analyst’ to your job description after working with a difficult client.

6. You’ll Become More Goal-Focused

When dealing with difficult clients, you likely won’t agree on much. But what you will agree on is the importance of reaching your goal. When you have little in common, a goal can act as a uniting factor. You’ll realize the importance of being goal-oriented and will spark more conversation around goals.

Learning to do that will help you keep things in perspective and stay on task. The goal is what matters. Every action takes you closer to achieving it or moves you farther away — a valuable lesson for your event-planning business.  

7. You’ll Excel at Managing Expectations

Sometimes clients become difficult because they have unrealistic expectations surrounding the event. This likely will only happen to you once. After you’ve gotten off on a bad foot, you’ll learn from your experience and find ways to assure you and the client are on the same page from the beginning.

Managing client expectations early on is infinitely easier than realizing right before the event that they have an unrealistic view of what will happen or what will be gained. Address the expectations early for the best results. Don’t assume you both know or want the same things.

8. You’ll Learn to Say No

Managing expectations and saying no are very valuable life lessons. A difficult client will give you ample time to not only learn to say no but perfect the way in which you do.

9. You’ll Learn When to Walk Away

The song The Gambler is a great one to illustrate what it’s like to work with a difficult client.

“You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Kenny Rogers may have been singing about cards in that song but it fits for difficult clients as well. There are occasions when the best thing you can do for all involved is to walk (or run) away.

While you should never walk away from a challenge, there are times where things go much deeper than not seeing eye-to-eye or having different personalities. Occasionally, the emotional output and stress aren’t worth the revenue. When that happens, you will learn another valuable lesson – how to fire a client. Firing is an important life skill. It’s one in which you learn how to cut your losses and move on so you both can find a better professional fit.

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In Conclusion

Dealing with difficult event clients can make you want to give up. But if you’re able to navigate those relationships successfully without throwing in the towel, you’ll likely come away from the experience with a lot of professional development lessons. Best of all, you don’t even have to pay (money) for them.

Additional Resources on Dealing with Difficult Clients

How to Get Your Event Clients to Think Bigger
10 Reasons Why Your Clients Ask for Discounts and What to Do About It
20 Reasons Why Your Event Clients Suck

About The Author
Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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