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How To Disagree With Your Client

Disagreeing with clients isn’t a bad thing. It’s healthy and can lead to great outcomes if handled properly. Here are some tips on how to disagree constructively.

Disagreeing with clients isn't a bad thing. It's healthy and can lead to great outcomes if handled properly. Here are some tips on how to disagree constructively.

It's OK to disagree with your clients

Our job as key account managers is to tell our clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

Sometimes that leads to friction. But that's how pearls are made - that little tiny grain of sand that irritates the oyster and something beautiful is born.

Remember you're the expert and you know your industry, your products and solutions and how your client can best use them to get closer to their goals.

Your client isn't.

Maybe they misinformed, ignorant or just didn't listen. Or you haven't explained yourself clearly or don't have all the information you need to convince them of your point of view.

Or maybe their just plain wrong and you need to set them straight.

Don't put off the hard conversations. 

They won't get any easier and it'll just lead to communication breakdowns and harms your ability to collaborate. Decisions get delayed, and you could miss out on big opportunities for your business.

Whatever the reason, a disagreement with your client involves delicate diplomacy to get our point across without starting an all out argument.

Whenever you find yourself in a tense situation with someone you don't agree with, look inward and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want the outcome of this conversation to be?
  • How do I want to comport myself as I have this conversation?
  • What do I want from the other party in this conversation?
  • What do I want from the relationship moving forward?

Create an agenda around the gaps you want to fill

The main reason arguments get heated and become unproductive is because the issue isn't actually being discussed.

What then happens is finger-pointing, name-calling, silence, or raised voices; basically, you become defensive by being aggressive or passive-aggressive.

Design your agenda to address the disagreement and resolve it. Throughout the conversation, keep coming back to your agenda so you don't lose site of the issues.

  • What do you want to talk about?
  • Need something explained?
  • Dislike any behaviour?
  • Anything else bothering you? Bring it up and say why.

Not every disagreement needs to be examined.

Focus on what matters. Listen to both sides of the argument and be clear so there's no confusion.

Tips for handling a disagreement with your client

  • Give your client the benefit of the doubt. Assume they mean well.
  • Work together to find solutions instead of pointing fingers. A problem can be solved many ways.
  • Be ready to receive feedback. Don't give in to the urge to react. Listen and acknowledge.
  • Borrow from improv. Use "Yes and" to show you've heard what your client has to say. Avoid "No, but" which belittles or negates the information. Good vibes only.
  • No generalisations. Don't say things like "everyone says" or "everything is at risk." It's meaningless to draw conclusions from a few instances.
  • Rely on systems, processes and objective metrics to take the emotion out of the equation. Use evidence to justify your position.
  • Speak for yourself, not for others who aren't there. Own your opinions.
  • Don't disagree on the spot. Set up a time to talk about the issue with your client and provide an agenda so everyone has times to prepare and discuss rationally.
  • Ask yourself if you might be the one that's wrong? If you are, say sorry. Don't be stubborn just because you want to be right.
  • Your priority is to preserve the relationship. It's just one conversation and one moment in time. If things get heated, let them know the relationship is more important to you than winning any argument.
  • Don't talk over people or interrupt them. Let your client finish their answer before you speak.
  • Listen carefully and recap what you've heard to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
  • No ultimatums, no threats, no yelling.
  • End with a next step or action. What should happen as a result of the conversation?
  • Don't pretend you know something if you don't.
  • Believe that you have everything you need to handle the disagreement and assume a successful outcome

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Coming up: What to do when your client doesn't give a crap

Do you have clients that don't seem to care about working with you. Not even one tiny bit. From day one you've been climbing a huge wall of indifference and getting nowhere.

Then my next workshop is for you.

I'm not talking about clients who have are dis-engaged. I'm talking about clients who never cared to begin with.

You would think that someone who paid for your services would be interested in working with you to get the most value from them, right?


Picture it. You've just been handed a client (inherited or new), and from the very first day you discover:

  • No one wants to talk to you.
  • They don't return calls or answer emails.
  • They cancel last minute, or worse, no-show to your scheduled meetings.
  • They have zero interest in collaborating with you.
  • You feel like have to re-sell your value every time.

Why does this happen, and how do we get out of of this trap?

We're going to figure it out together.

Save your spot now.

Worth a click

+ The Improv Mindset. Change Your Brain. Change Your Business.  Unique book on how to apply the fundamentals of improv to get individuals, teams, and organizations to step up, engage, and solve problems.

Follow the authors of The Improv Mindset on LinkedIn: Gail Montgomery and Bruce Montgomery. They have a fun feed including a regular video series called Dashboard Improv.

+ The KAM Club. The world's most amazing community of key account manager. Inside you'll find all the tools, templates, guides, workshops, training and coaching you need for a successful career in key account management. 

Quote of the week

"This is one of the marks of a truly safe person: they are confrontable." ― Henry Cloud

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Have a great week

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown

Warwick Brown is one of the leading key account management experts in the world. Through The KAM Club, a global membership community for key account managers, his blog that reaches 20,000 people every month, and a range of training and coaching services, Warwick has helped thousands of key account managers get better results, faster.
Go here to read Warwick's story from key account manager to entrepreneur. If you want to send Warwick a quick message, visit his contact page here.

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