How to strategically disagree with a client so everyone wins
We all argue now and then, but how do you keep the parties in the conversation from doubling down? Use these strategies to avoid doubling down and have more meaningful interactions with clients.
I’ve noticed an alarming trend that I fear throws critical thinking out the window and harms your relationship with clients. This phenomenon stems from our strong desire to always be correct and not admit that we may be wrong.
Instead of seeking logical answers based on fact and research, we rationalize half-truths and conjecture as fact. We’re willing to dig in to justify our answers, even if they are flawed or flat-out wrong. This tactic is known as doubling down, and, left unchecked, it will negatively impact your interaction with others — including clients and coworkers.
I would argue that doubling down, rather than making your point, has the opposite effect. In justifying your argument, you are actually driving the other party further away from your point of view.
Even if you believe you are 100 percent correct, your unwillingness to extend an olive branch trumps your content. This olive branch doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your argument, but you do have to determine a compromise that will keep the conversation going respectfully.
Taken to the extreme, doubling down has damaging consequences. Conversations may turn into shouting matches where each party speaks over each other and no one listens. If the trend continues long enough, clients may leave. Effective communication is a two-way street. If one party insists on always doubling down, the whole system fails.
Having shared the worst of what could happen, I want to focus on ways to stop, or at least hamper, the desire to double down so it does not negatively affect client relationships.
Understand the client’s point of view
I once worked with a client who was seeing increased revenue and spend while also seeing a consistently high ROI each month. During meetings, I would explain the metric improvements we were making every month.
They didn’t seem impressed. To further my point, I provided additional metrics that highlighted the (what I thought) great work I was doing. It didn’t matter, as I was repeatedly told we needed to do better.
It turns out that the main metric, in the client’s point of view, was cost divided revenue. For example, if we spent $30K and made $100K, the cost per revenue percentage was 30 percent. I believed we were going great because revenue was increasing, but the client thought cost per revenue was not decreasing enough. I kept doubling down on the notion that we should pay more attention to revenue increases each month instead of improving cost per revenue.
What I should have been doing was trying to understand that cost per revenue was the most important metric to the client. Due to my industry experience, I was jaded and pushed my beliefs, when in reality, my insight should have complemented their views. If I had taken this approach, the relationship would have been more constructive from the beginning. I also believe my point of view would have been considered because I was working with them, instead of against.
Reframe the conversation
Whenever we double down, we tell the other party we disagree with their point of view. However, if we’re able to switch the topic, then we can better approach a middle ground.
A good example of this dynamic involves the expectations a client and advertiser/agency have for one another when managing lead generation accounts.
Advertisers aim to bring in as many leads as possible, while the client tries to turn these leads into opportunities and eventually revenue. A common theme in this relationship is that the advertiser is consistently meeting the lead goal, but the client isn’t seeing the desired increase in opportunities. From the advertiser’s perspective, the job is being done, and it’s up to the client to close these leads.
From the client’s perspective, more opportunities aren’t being created because too many of the leads are of poor quality. Both sides have reasonable arguments, but if either party doubles down, then no progress will be made. What is the workaround? Reframing the problem.
Instead of arguing about who is responsible for the low number of opportunities, we should focus on how each party can better work together to bring in higher-quality leads.
What insight does each side have that will help the other? Can more effective ad messaging be used to better prequalify users? Can the advertiser help guide the conversion funnel? By discussing and answering these questions, we make a lot more progress than we would if we decided to double down.
Consider that you are wrong
It’s not easy to think we are wrong, let alone admit it. We take pride in our work, and as humans, we have egos. To admit we are wrong seems like we’re letting ourselves down. Alternatively, in some instances, we’re not as concerned about being wrong as much as we are about the other party being right (which is the wrong attitude to have). Whatever the reason, you can admit that you are wrong while saving face.
The first step is to admit that you are wrong. By admitting that your thinking is incorrect, you acknowledge to the client that you aren’t doubling down. The client may be angry at first, but I’ve found that in the long run, they respect you more for being honest. Similar to reframing the conversation, the next step is to put a plan in place to move forward. Discuss how the situation will be resolved.
We’re all wrong sometimes. That’s life. Just make sure that you are able to admit it and are focused on finding the solution.
There is too much doubling down occurring on a daily basis that isn’t helping anyone. We need to better communicate with each other and respect our points of view. Use the strategies discussed in this post to avoid doubling down and have more meaningful interactions.