Managing Client Personalities

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Consulting, Nonprofit Consulting


I have had tough calls and meetings with clients over the years.

Our personalities and communication styles clash sometimes. Sometimes, it’s what we say or how we say it. Sometimes, it’s the examples we use, how fast or slow we speak, the questions we ask, or just our tone of voice.

It’s hard not to let those interactions ruin the day or my outlook on things.

But I remind myself that these interactions aren’t usually personal. As nonprofit consultants, we all have to manage easy and difficult client personalities. Quite honestly, we have to manage our own sometimes too. I’m one of those people that has no “face filter.” As a result, I manage myself by having fewer video calls and sticking to phone calls whenever possible. It’s much easier for me to filter my voice. It’s just a reality of who I am and how I communicate.


Client personalities can affect us more than we realize.

It’s easy to forget how much client relationships and interactions can affect us.

We’re inspired to perform at our best when things are going well. Our clients appreciate our work, and we’re excited about the change we’re helping nonprofits achieve. You might get off a particularly great client call—one full of mutual respect and collaboration—and feel energized for the rest of the day.

But when client personalities don’t mesh with our own, it can become a huge drag on our time and energy. You might start dreading emails or calls from that client. You might put off completing their deliverables simply because you don’t want to interact with them further (been there, done that).

The impact can trickle into other areas of your life, too, affecting your sleep, mood, or overall motivation. If your dynamic with a client is especially bad, you might even start to doubt your own skills.

This is where the power of being a consultant comes in, though. We can choose to manage client personalities proactively.


Learning to manage different client personalities.

Yes, some clients may have difficult personalities. They may be badgering. They may change their minds all the time. They may try to micromanage you as a consultant (the way they would a staff member). Their behavior is out of your control.

But there are two things you can always control as a consultant:

  • How you interact with clients.
  • How you respond to clients.

One of the most amazing parts of being a consultant is that you can set the terms of your interactions with clients.

Here are just a few examples of how you can manage client personalities proactively:

  • You can structure intake calls to create clarity and intentionally identify and alleviate potential miscommunications upfront.
  • You can create crystal clear scopes of work with your clients that outline deliverables and the entire workflow. You can even spell out exactly when and how clients will be asked to give input and approval—and what happens if they take too long and delay the project schedule.
  • You can learn about your own personality type and be thoughtful about how it might affect your responses to clients whose personality type doesn’t mesh well with yours.
  • You can adjust your communication style if your usual style isn’t working with a particular client’s personality (and you’re already committed to a contract). Going forward, you can take it a step further and be upfront with new prospective clients about your communication style so that they know what to expect (and you can weed out those who aren’t a good match).
  • You can say no to clients who seem like they may be especially difficult to work with. Once you’ve been consulting for a while, you can usually sense whether a client will be difficult to work with early. It might not be anything you can put your finger on at first, maybe just a vague uneasiness that, as an employee, you were used to brushing off. Well, it’s time to listen to your gut.
  • You can put yourself and your needs first. As nonprofit consultants, this can be one of the most challenging things for us to do. We’re doing this work to make a difference (while making a living). Plus, if you’ve worked in the nonprofit sector previously, you may have already internalized the message that demonstrating your commitment is to “go above and beyond,” even if it’s emotionally, physically, or financially draining. The next time you’re trying to manage a difficult client personality, I challenge you to step back and ask: What is best for ME in this situation?

For additional resources on boundaries and wellness in your consulting career, check out last week’s blog on How to Balance Business and Wellness. If you want to take that further, join us at the In-Person Nonprofit Consulting Conference in October. Jarrett Ransom will present on Integrating Wellness, Boundaries, and Self-Care In Nonprofit Consulting.

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