Andrew Neitlich

Clients and projects can be incredibly challenging.

A mentor of mine compared professional services to trying to hit five baseballs coming at you simulataneously — a curve ball, a fast ball, a knuckleball, a bean ball, and a slider. You really have to be on your toes, be nimble, and stay calm.

Yet too many professionals lose composure at some point in the sales process and content delivery. I remember the dot com era when I was at a large systems integration firm on a huge project that relied on contracted teams and freelances. Too frequently a freelancer would storm out of the office, screaming and yelling about some frustration or other.

I sometimes suffer from this myself. Just this weekend I was leading a 2-day strategic retreat with a client, going late into the night trying to reach consensus about strategic direction. I was tired of their inability to focus, and sorely tempted to just start yelling at these folks to get their act together and make a decision.

I didn’t, but I’m sure the audience sensed my frustration and impatience, even through small signals like voice tone and facial expression.

It is essential to stay professional, no matter how frustrating or trying the client can become. EVERY good project reaches an impasse at some point or another, and you have to handle it.

How do you do this? Well, it turns out there is some help in organizational research.

Here are some ideas:

1. At any point you are working to balance relationships with the business outcomes and results you want to achieve. Some of us focus too hard on results, and come across as coercive. Others focus too hard on relationships, and so avoid and never get results. You have to know the right balance for your prospect/client situation. Ask yourself if you are striking the appropriate balance, or leaning too far in one direction or the other.

2. When things slide down hill, top professionals disengage, or “go to the balcony” as the folks at the Harvard Negotiation Project say. In other words, they call for a break to cool off, with the intent of reconvening soon. While disengaging, they think about how to change tactics for a more productive interaction.

3. It is key to separate who you are as a person from your role as a professional. That way, you don’t take situations personally. You are an actor, and act like a consummate professional.

4. As Covey writes, it’s key to know how to choose your actions, regardless of your feelings.

What else?