How to Stay Calm When a Client Tries Your Patience


When working with clients, patience is both a must-have quality and a delicate balance. Of course, you’ll want to be cool and calm when training clients or explaining the specifics of a project. That’s just a display of good manners.

But there are situations when you can be a little too patient. There can be points in a relationship where patience enables poor behavior.

Therefore, it’s important to learn how to balance your good intentions with the potential for being taken for a ride.

Today, we’ll look at some scenarios where patience is called for and when it’s time to say “enough.”

Don’t Force Yourself to Be Patient

I’ll admit that I’m generally a very impatient person. It’s something that has been a constant struggle. I often remind myself to be patient, even when I don’t want to. While that’s great for keeping clients happy, it also opens the door to being taken advantage of (which I have been).

This mindset allows certain types of clients to get away with things. For instance, it may lead you to forever excuse a client who is excessively late in paying an invoice. Or you might resign yourself to providing free “favors” that cost you time and money. All the while, you’re acting against your own better judgment.

The result is a seriously negative impact on your business. Not only do you lose money, but you can also become stressed to the point of dreading your work. It’s probably not what you signed up for.

Keeping client frustrations inside can be stressful

Where to Draw the Line

Don’t get me wrong, a little bit of patience can be a good thing. When a client sees that you are patient, it means that you are approachable. They can feel free to ask questions without fear of being snapped at. Because of that, your projects will have better outcomes.

But designers still must set healthy limits on what can and can’t be tolerated. So, when is it time to assert yourself?

When a Client Won’t Hold Up Their End of the Bargain

Entering into a work agreement with a client isn’t a one-sided affair. It’s more than just a laundry list of your duties as a designer.

Clients also have their own set of responsibilities. Tasks such as paying invoices, sticking to deadlines, and providing you with a clear understanding of requirements are all a part of the deal.

It’s important to understand that we’re all human. We make mistakes and aren’t always able to deliver. But when a client displays a chronic inability (or lack of interest) in doing their part, we can’t let it slide.

When They Don’t Respect You

There are several ways to feel disrespected by a client. Maybe they never respond to your questions. Or they don’t seem to value your opinion on anything related to the project. You might even get yelled at or talked down to.

In this case, showing patience is simply allowing someone to treat you poorly. That can get old rather quickly and threatens the long-term viability of your relationship.

Whatever the issue, it’s not worth maintaining the status quo. To see a change, you need to act.

 It's important to set clear boundaries with clients

How to Handle the Situation

When you’ve decided that enough is enough, it’s time to get the issue resolved. Keep in mind that it’s still important to maintain a professional tone (even if you’d prefer otherwise). The goal is to fix what’s broken and attempt to carry on the relationship, if possible.

Each situation is unique. But some general guidelines can help:

Choose Your Words Carefully

Communication is the first step toward resolution. Think ahead about what you want to communicate to your client. To better explain the issue, include any relevant examples of behavior that support your claim.

You don’t need to be accusatory – just stay calm and factual. In some cases, your client may not even realize what they’re doing until you bring it to their attention.

Impose Deadlines

Leaving a situation open-ended ensures that your issues will drag on indefinitely. Instead, set deadlines for clients to take the necessary action. This creates a sense of urgency to get things done.

Also, state what the consequences of inaction will be. Most importantly, hold your bottom line! Otherwise, your words are meaningless.

Get Promises in Writing

There are times when you’ll want documentation that clearly states what your client has promised to do. This is especially important when dealing with people who habitually fail to deliver on their word. Again, this enforces the idea of being accountable.

Don’t Offer Any Special Deals

If being too patient helped to create the problem, offering more of the same isn’t the solution. Any attempt at concessions on your part will keep the vicious cycle going. Be friendly, but don’t be a doormat.

Bringing bad behavior to a client's attention can help resolve tense situations

Patience is a Virtue…with Limits

You might be under the impression that having patience leads to clients taking advantage of your kind nature. Despite the examples above, that’s not the case. The overwhelming majority of those you’ll work with make being in business a great experience.

But the reality is that there are some people that require more patience than others. Sooner or later, we will run into someone that habitually doesn’t pay bills or constantly makes our jobs more difficult.

That’s why it is imperative to set proper boundaries. Most clients will never cross them. But when one does, you won’t find yourself in a never-ending cycle of problems. You’ll have the necessary skills to correct those small issues before they get out of control.

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