Agency /Navigating tough conversations with clients

Navigating tough conversations with clients

When it comes to client relationships, being able to navigate tough conversations is a common challenge that many account services professionals face and struggle with, but it’s so important that this skill is developed in order to progress in your career.

In their very first Play Your Strong Suit webinar, Camey O’Keefe and Steph Graham chatted about why tough conversations are important, common challenges and some strategies for dealing with difficult conversations with your clients – we’ve got the highlights here for you to take away.


The importance of tough conversations

Want to build and maintain trust in relationships with your clients? Tough conversations are integral. They are not just about addressing issues, but are essential for fostering strong, lasting partnerships and showing that you’re not just a yes person, but truly care about the good of their brand.

The ability to lead these conversations is often key for recruitment in senior roles within agencies. These conversations help to set clear expectations, resolve conflicts, and ensure that both yourself and your clients are aligned towards the same goals.


Common challenges

There are several factors that can make tough conversations challenging, including:


People-pleasing tendencies

Many people – not just suits – and particularly those in a new role, prioritise pleasing clients and team members at the expense of addressing critical issues. That way, everyone is happy. However, this tendency can lead to a buildup of unresolved problems that may eventually harm the relationship and then no one is happy.


Lack of support

If support from senior management is lacking, suits may struggle when trying to deal with difficult clients and have tough conversations. This lack of advice and guidance from someone who has been there and done that, can make it hard for suits to address issues confidently and effectively.


Market pressures

In uncertain market conditions, there’s extra pressure to retain clients. So why would you engage in a difficult conversation that can jeopardise the agency-client relationship? It’s much safer to appease clients short term, rather than look at long term solutions.


Strategies for effective tough conversations

Shift your mindset

Reframe tough conversations as “worthwhile dialogues”. These conversations are opportunities to build trust and improve the relationship, so this subtle mindset shift can change the energy you bring into the conversation, making it more constructive and less confrontational.


Embrace honesty

Remember what your mum told you when you were a kid? “Honesty is always the best policy.” Bring an honest approach to difficult conversations. It helps to diffuse potential conflicts and build a foundation of trust. Even though a white lie may feel more convenient, honesty ensures that the relationship remains transparent and authentic.


Navigate for the win-win

Aim for outcomes that benefit both you and your client. This strategy ensures that the conversation is not about winning an argument, but about progressing to a better place for everyone involved.


Practice saying no

Get comfortable with saying no, and start saying it more often, but with kindness. This practice helps to set realistic expectations and prevent the buildup of unreasonable demands. For example, if a client requests an unrealistic deadline, explain the constraints and propose a more feasible timeline.


Listen hard

Active and effective listening is crucial. It involves not just hearing, but also interpreting and responding thoughtfully. Show that you’ve understood the other person’s perspective by incorporating what they’ve said into your conversation – it’ll help you find common ground.


Prepare in writing

Draft your thoughts and key points before the conversation – this helps to organise your thoughts and provide a clear structure for the discussion. It can also help reduce anxiety and forgetfulness, ensuring that everything you want to talk about gets covered.


Keep it light

Whenever appropriate, maintain a light and positive tone as it can help to reduce tension and make the conversation easier for all parties. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of humour – it can also diffuse stress and create a more relaxed environment.


Practical tips for implementation

Start small

Begin by practising these strategies in low-stakes situations, like saying no to minor requests that are unreasonable. This practice helps in building confidence and refining your approach.


Seek feedback

After having a tough conversation, seek feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors. Their insights can help you understand what worked well and what could be improved.



Engage in role-playing exercises with colleagues to simulate tough conversations. This practice can help in anticipating potential challenges and refining your responses.


Continuously learn

Read books or attend workshops on effective communication and conflict resolution. Continuous learning helps in honing your skills and staying updated with best practices.


Feeling confident and equipped to handle a difficult conversation? That’s what we want to hear!


Play Your Strong Suit is a monthly webinar series where Camey and Steph deep dive into the biggest issues facing account services talent. To sign up for the next webinar or watch replays, head to our Contrast channel today.

And if you’re keen on finding a new account service role or want to hire one of our fabulous account service talent, get in touch! Email and we’ll put you in touch with the right people.