What do you do when you have a client who is draining your business as well as your mental resources? I'm sure you recognize the type — the client who innocently claims they do not understand, but always finds a way to manipulate the situation to their benefit.
The easy answer: Give them what they want, finish the job, and move on. After all, we remodelers are pleasers by nature; we want to be liked and recommended to others. The hard answer: Expend energy resisting them at every step. However, both of these approaches can be personally and professionally destructive.
The approach I recommend is one that remodelers specialize in: adaptation. We do it every day on the jobsite. When we come across an unexpected column during demolition, we rearrange the design to incorporate it.
So how do you adapt to difficult clients? First, do not get emotional. Doing so can cloud judgment. Similar to children, clients are always pushing the limit to see how far they can go before you give in. Be firm and consistent. For example, you decide to give a client an extra recessed can light as part of a change order. If the client then expects you to make a similar accommodation on the next change order, firmly hold your ground.
Second, document all specifications and major decisions. In extreme cases, obtain an approval signature from the client. If the project is large enough, document weekly meetings with written notes.
Difficult clients desire to control the situation. The key is to disarm them before they get out of control. Remember that they hired you to guide them through the project by managing the process and managing their expectations. Remind them that they need to let you do your job.
Andy Poticha is a principal at Design & Construction Concepts in Chicago, a full-service company spanning architecture and construction.