Walking That Fine Line Between a Client Couple
There is nothing more awkward than finding yourself in the middle of an argument between a client couple! There are so many times when being a designer can feel like you're also a family therapist - and that's no fun. Emotions are often high around a design project, especially because you're dealing with a person's most intimate spaces AND you're talking about money. So how do you walk that fine line between moving the project along and staying out of conflict?! Try these ideas!
1. Set the Ground Rules
Having an onboarding process can really help set some ground rules for a client couple! This is when you can establish who needs to be the point person (maybe it's BOTH of them!), what styles they each gravitate to, and if they both agree on a specific budget. That last part is REALLY important. You want buy-in from EVERYONE on the money - that's the #1 source of conflict for most couples when it comes to projects. So try to get that sorted right from the start instead of being surprised by one person who disagrees about what the budget should be when you're already in the middle of the project.
2. Be Solutions Oriented
One of the BEST pieces of advice I've ever heard when dealing with couples came from a family therapist who said you should always serve the couple, but be sure you have HEARD the individuals. It can't be that only one person's wishes are what show up in the design presentation - that's going to lead to disaster. BOTH people need to feel heard by you when it comes to their shared home. So insist on getting feedback from everyone in the family about what they want when it comes to function and style. It's our job as designers to meld design styles - that's where we really shine! So give them your BEST work with lots of great solutions.
3. Communicate Regularly
Communication is ALWAYS the key to getting things done! Of course you want to send your weekly updates to both people in the couple. But you also want to pick up the phone when it seems like you're hitting a roadblock, or one person in the couple seems unhappy. Nip things in the bud QUICKLY when you can. Schedule an in-person meeting when it seems like there's a wrinkle in the plan that needs to be ironed out. Or if there is any change at all to the budget or the project. Don't let things grow from a small issue to a massive problem!
4. Avoid the Drama
Sometimes things to escalate to a serious problem between the couple. And often there's nothing you can do about that. There could already be issues in the marriage or relationship, and spending money or reworking a personal space can definitely trigger those issues. The best thing you can do is step back. NEVER insert yourself into the argument or appear to take sides. You will never ever win in that situation. I've literally had to say to a client couple: "I think you two probably need to talk this over more, so I'm going to let you have some time to work through it. If you could let me know your decision later this week, that would be great." And then get the heck out of dodge. After that, you can prompt them to give you a decision and remind them that you can't move forward without it. Your job is already tough enough without having to referee a family argument.
To help you navigate these tricky situations, download my FREE Guide to Setting Client Expectations. It will help you start setting those all-important ground rules!