Council Post: 16 Ways To Handle A Client Who Has Unrealistic Expectations (2023)

Clients don’t always know what goes into the work they’re hiring you to do. While every business wants to provide top-notch service, some clients simply have unrealistic expectations. Whether it's an impracticable deadline or a project that logistically cannot happen, you must be prepared to communicate limitations to a client who wants more than you can provide.

To help, we asked a panel ofForbes Business Councilmembers to share their best tips on how to deal with these situations. Follow their tips to get aligned with your clients for an optimal outcome.

Members discuss a few ways to handle clients who may have unreasonable expectations.

Photos courtesy of the individual members

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1. Understand What's Driving Them

Client expectations are driven by one of three things: past experience, pressures they are facing and inexperience. Document the scope of work and focus on seeking clarity on the outcome. After that, discussions on timelines and cost become a little easier. Make sure you document your assumptions very clearly and then invite your client to challenge them. That dialog will get you on the same page! -Ketan Jahagirdar,ROI Blueprints LLC

2. Operate With Transparency, Candor And Clarity

Many clients of mine have unrealistic expectations as it relates to growth or exit goals for their business.I prefer to always be transparent and offer my candid advice on how I would approach a situation given their personal or professional objectives.Providing clients with clarity of options to pursue is an important role as a trusted advisor. -David Crean,Objective Capital Partners, LLC

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3. Troubleshoot Before Working Together

It is vital to set expectations before you start working together. Have a comprehensive understanding of what their goals are and make sure that you have expressed which of their expectations are realistic. Clients value transparency and your business will thrive if you work with clients who you can exceed their expectations and refer others to a different firm that can better suit their needs. -Alessandra Conti,Matchmakers In The City

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4. Share Real-World Examples Of What Really Works

When a client has unrealistic expectations, it’s essential to be transparent and authentic. Never fall into the trap over-promising and then under-delivering.But don’t just tell them their goals can’t be met—show them by sharing real-world examples from previous projects. These case histories should provide concrete evidence to support your recommendations and get them on the same page. -Jason Richmond,Ideal Outcomes Inc.

5. Spell It Out And Write It Up

It is your job to focus on how the client understands you, not the other way around. Don't make any assumptions about what the client understands from a phone call. We always conduct kick-off calls for our RFP and bid responses. However, we then always follow up with an email stating exactly what we discussed so that we can manage expectations for deliverables and due dates. -Maurice Harary,The Bid Lab

6. Consider Whether It's Essential To Keep Their Business

As with any business interaction, the goal is to create mutually beneficial, long-term collaborations with your clients so that running your business is enjoyable and profitable. Unenjoyable clients can ruin your business. Consider the stage of growth: Do you need this client's money to function? Or can you afford to lose them and would that benefit your team? -Dandan Zhu,DG Recruit

7. Don't Be A Pleaser

Part of our business is aesthetics: Making people look younger and beautiful—a field with inherent sometimes realistic and sometimes unrealistic expectations. It does neither the patient nor the provider any good to agree that someone will look different than the limits of what can be accomplished. It is far better to say no to a client and lose the business than acquiesce. -Brian Rudman,Formula Wellness Center

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8. Consider The Market Conditions And Deliverability

When client expectations do not align with market conditions or a company's ability to deliver, it can be due to fear-based negotiating and lack of confidence by a deal maker to establish upfront contracts around expectations. Clearly articulated capabilities, market conditions, measurement milestones and alternatives for strategies that do not yield results are keys to bridging expectations. -Amy Hall,Caton Commercial Real Estate Group

9. Have A Pre-Sale Conference

For a small business, it is very easy to become a victim of scope creep just to make your client happy. This in turn may not even make your client happy and also can hurt your business. Have detailedpre-sale conferences with your client, introduce the scope of the project and do's and don'ts during your meetings, and solidify your terms in a written contract. -Syed Gilani,Safr Technologies Inc.

10. Don't Take Things At Face Value

Empathy, curiosity and confidence are essential when dealing with clients who have unrealistic expectations. When something pops up, stop everything and get curious. Seek to understand where the "new" expectation comes from and why it's important. Odds are your client is reacting to something and, by getting to the root of things, you can help develop a more effective and realistic solution. -Robyn Bolton,Mile Zero LLC

11. Seek First To Build Trust

I believe the most important factor for any service company is to build trust.For a client with unrealistic expectations, this becomes even more important. Be truthful and accurate. Keep your promises. Be responsive. Share your experience. Be proactive and ahead of their needs. Finally, listen carefully. -Shannon Prager,Leadit Marketing

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12. Know When To Say No

The key is to educate clients in terms of what is realistic and what is not as early as possible. To try and please every customer with their unrealistic expectations would drain the company and result in providing sub-optimal service causing every client to be unhappy! Make sure they understand why not all their demands can be met and why they need to be a partner to you rather than just a client. -Cyrus Hadavi,Adexa, Inc.

13. Prioritize The Project Tasks

The client talks about the tasks and goals that are part of the project.Assuming that each piece is possible, I replay the list to the client and set time requirements for each one.Then we look at the list in the context of our timeframe and prioritize. If something is beyond our joint talents and skills, we problem solve what might be done instead, then again prioritize how and what to do. -Sharon Lynn Livingston,The Livingston Center for Professional Coaching

14. Use Learning Principles To Support Success

As a company of educators, we bring learning principles into our daily consulting practice. By co-constructing key outcomes and objectives for each project with our clients, we can better set realistic goals. By providing clear objectives, we give measurable terms of what we will do to support their goals. The prospective outcomes identify what a client can do as a result of our partnership. -Rayna Yaker,RYE Consulting

15. Set Ground Rules From The Beginning

I also have learned to sniff out people who will have unrealistic expectations from the initial interaction with them and not work with them.And when we do, I have found that it is best to set expectations from the beginning, including clear goals and metrics. Then you have a clear way to evaluate success. -Jennifer Acree,JSA Strategies

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16. Find Out Where The Communication Glitch Occurred

"Unreasonable" client demands usually indicate a communication glitch—either we haven't understood something about the client's situation, or they don't know how we deliver products and services. Either way, ask a lot of probing questions and find out exactly why the client is being "unreasonable." It's an opportunity to clear the air and exchange information—not to blame one another. -Sriram Padmanabhan,Cymorg Inc.


How do you solve unrealistic expectations? ›

These tips can help.
  1. Remember: You can only control yourself. When setting an expectation, it can help to first ask yourself whether you actually have any control over the situation. ...
  2. Know your limits. ...
  3. Share your expectations. ...
  4. Keep a flexible mindset.
30 Nov 2020

How do you deal with irrational customers? ›

How to Deal with Angry Customers
  1. Remain calm.
  2. Practice active listening.
  3. Repeat back what your customers say.
  4. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention.
  5. Explain the steps you'll take to solve the problem.
  6. Set a time to follow up with them, if needed.
  7. Be sincere.
  8. Highlight the case's priority.
15 Dec 2021

What are examples of unrealistic expectations? ›

Be especially wary of the expectations that follow—they give people all kinds of trouble.
  • Life should be fair. ...
  • Opportunities will fall into my lap. ...
  • Everyone should like me. ...
  • People should agree with me. ...
  • People know what I'm trying to say. ...
  • I'm going to fail. ...
  • Things will make me happy. ...
  • I can change him/her.
2 Aug 2016

How do you respond to an unreasonable client request? ›

How to Respond to an Unreasonable Request
  1. Assess the relationship. ...
  2. Be curious. ...
  3. Raise awareness for the other person. ...
  4. Be clear on your boundaries. ...
  5. Offer alternative solutions. ...
  6. Let the other person know what would work next time.
14 Apr 2022

How do you deal with impossible targets? ›

Is your manager giving you unrealistic goals? Here's how to respond
  1. Point out any logistical challenges they may be missing.
  2. Be completely honest and transparent about your concerns.
  3. Ask to share the task or target at hand with your team.
  4. Don't take it personally.
  5. Choose to take on the challenge.
8 Feb 2021

How do you deal with unrealistic demand in the workplace? ›

How to deal with unreasonable demands at work
  1. Review the assignment. ...
  2. Determine the reason for the order. ...
  3. Process your feelings. ...
  4. Write out your thoughts. ...
  5. Acknowledge the request. ...
  6. Set your boundary. ...
  7. Explain the reason for your limits. ...
  8. Offer resolutions.

What do you do when expectations are not met? ›

5 Ways To Deal With Unmet Expectations
  1. Manage your expectations. Make sure you set realistic goals and expectations. ...
  2. Realize and accept you are not in control of everything. Accept that fact. ...
  3. You are in control of many things. Know what you can control. ...
  4. Look in the mirror. ...
  5. Move on to greener pastures.
14 Jul 2017

How do you professionally say no to a client? ›

7 Tips on How to Say No to Customers
  1. Ask for clarification. When customers are vague about why they're upset (“Your update looks terrible. ...
  2. Explain what's going to happen next. ...
  3. Be honest. ...
  4. Reframe the “no” using positive language. ...
  5. Make the customer feel heard. ...
  6. Offer alternatives. ...
  7. Explain the reasoning behind the current design.
3 Jun 2022

Why is it important to manage client expectations? ›

It's important to manage customer expectations so customers have a realistic view of what to expect, and therefore more likely to be satisfied or delighted with the service they receive from you.

What are examples of managing expectations? ›

A simple yet effective way to manage expectations is to ask the person, “Can I get back to you on this once I review all my current deliverables?” This is a much more respectful tactic to take than blindly agreeing to an expectation that you only later find out you can't deliver on.

How would you negotiate with a difficult client? ›

Strategies for negotiating with tough customers
  1. Skill at focusing. Skill at focusing on areas of maximum leverage is directly related to how good a job you do at uncovering and prioritizing the customer's decision criteria. ...
  2. Plan and use questions. ...
  3. Establish ranges. ...
  4. Test for misunderstanding. ...
  5. Create interest immediately.

What does it mean when someone has unrealistic expectations? ›

If you say that someone is being unrealistic, you mean that they do not recognize the truth about a situation, especially about the difficulties involved in something they want to achieve.

What is it called when you have unrealistic expectations? ›

Perfectionism involves setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself and becoming dysregulated when you don't meet the rigid standards you created. You may believe things are all or nothing, either praiseworthy or worthless.

What are unreasonable expectations? ›

adjective. An unreasonable decision, action, price, or amount seems unfair and difficult to justify.

How do you tell a client they are being unreasonable? ›

Make it very clear to the client that every new demand that can be categorized as 'unreasonable' will add to the project cost. Also, explain the reasons for the same. And if you really want to go the whole hog, ask for an upfront payment before going ahead and satisfying the client demand.

How do you handle an insistent customer? ›

Insistent customers

When dealing with an insistent customer, it is important to provide proof that you have a more effective way of solving their issue. Easy access to a knowledge base or other informational content can greatly improve this process.

How would you deal with a customer who is wrong and insists on something? ›

Ask what led them to their conclusions and determine the results they want. Sometimes the customer has made a bad assumption…and sometimes we're the ones on the wrong track. If a customer is going down a path that will hurt them, tell a story of a time you've seen someone else take that path and describe what happened.

How do you deal with unrealistic deadlines? ›

How to Deal With Unreasonable Deadlines at Work
  1. Look at your colleagues. ...
  2. Break the project down differently. ...
  3. Tell your manager what you can do. ...
  4. If the problem is chronic, raise it as a big-picture issue.
12 Oct 2011

What are some unrealistic goals? ›

Trying to learn a new language in a couple of months is an unrealistic goal. Planning to run a marathon with no previous experience in a few weeks is also anything but realistic. Increasing customer acquisition by 100 percent in a month is another example of an unrealistic goal.

What is unrealistic performance goals? ›

Unrealistic goals can best be described as the goals you've set, yet they are almost impossible to achieve. While setting goals is important, you should set goals that are ambitious, yet attainable. Unrealistic goals can affect your employees both in the short term and in the long term.

How do you set realistic expectations at work? ›

Here are our top 6 tips for how to set expectations for employees:
  1. Set employee expecations early and often.
  2. Keep expectations attainable and realistic.
  3. Make expectations follow the SMART goal framework.
  4. Connect expectations to clear metrics.
  5. Review employee performance regularly.
  6. Be open to collaborating on expectations.
6 Jun 2022

How do you meet someone's expectations? ›

Here are nine tips to help ensure that your expectations of others are being met.
  1. Clarify your expectations. ...
  2. Link performance to a purpose . ...
  3. Communicate your expectations. ...
  4. Check their understanding. ...
  5. Offer your support. ...
  6. Check-in with them. ...
  7. Provide feedback. ...
  8. Express appreciation.

What is an example of expectation? ›

Expectation is defined as believing that something is going to happen or believing that something should be a certain way. An example of expectation is a belief that you will be getting promoted. An example of expectation is a belief that you should behave as a proper lady or gentleman.

How do you respond to pushy clients? ›

The right way: Set clear boundaries, be consistent, mean what you say and have direct and logical consequences. Reset expectations at each interaction. “If you give someone an inch, they'll take a mile.” It's your responsibility to re-assert original expectations when a pushy customer makes an unreasonable request.

What do you do when a client doesn't like their hair? ›

  1. Always thank them for providing you with feedback and for telling you how they feel. ...
  2. Sincerely Apologize! ...
  3. Listen! ...
  4. Ask them what you can do to make it better? ...
  5. Be sure to let the client know it's ok they are unhappy. ...
  6. Give them a peace offering!
5 Apr 2017

What is unrealistic expectation? ›

Unrealistic expectations are rigid. They don't leave room for changing circumstances or allow us or others to be flexible. Sometimes the expectations might seem reasonable, fair, and realistic, but your experience reveals they can't be met.

How do you push back on demanding clients? ›

If you still end up with a situation that calls for “pushing back,” keep the following in mind:
  1. Stay cool. ...
  2. Stick with the facts as much as possible. ...
  3. Ask before telling. ...
  4. Take notes. ...
  5. Say “Yes, and…” instead of “but.”
1 Feb 2019

What is one strategy for dealing with an aggressive client? ›

Stay calm and keep your emotions in check. Adopt a passive and non-threatening body posture (e.g. hands by your side with empty palms facing forward, body at a 45 degree angle to the aggressor). Let the client air his/her feelings and acknowledge them. Ask open-ended questions to keep a dialogue going.

What should you do if the client is not happy with the final result of the make up? ›

Dealing With Unhappy Customers
  1. Step One: Adjust Your Mindset. ...
  2. Step Two: Listen Actively. ...
  3. Step Three: Repeat Their Concerns. ...
  4. Step Four: Be Empathic and Apologize. ...
  5. Step Five: Present a Solution. ...
  6. Step Six: Take Action and Follow Up. ...
  7. Step Seven: Use the Feedback.

How do you tell a client you don't want to do their hair? ›

Explain that they seem unhappy each time, for whatever the reason may be, and that it may be best to part ways. Thank them for their time with you and wish them well. This does not have to be a dramatic event. Handle it professionally and try to take the emotion out of it.

How would you handle a difficult client in a salon? ›

8 ways to deal with difficult clients
  1. Stay calm. Maybe you're running behind on appointments or your client doesn't like their haircut. ...
  2. Listen. ...
  3. Offer solutions. ...
  4. Apologise. ...
  5. Always do a full consultation. ...
  6. Offer another appointment. ...
  7. Have a complaints procedure. ...
  8. Follow up.
25 Feb 2019

What problems can unrealistic expectations cause? ›

Failing to meet an unrealistic expectation — like becoming a millionaire by the time you're 30, having a “perfect” life or job — can set you up for frustration, self-judgment, and even depression.

Where do unrealistic expectations come from? ›

Unrealistic expectations can happen in so many ways, perhaps we look to others for self validation, make assumptions, expect change to be instant or maybe we assign our own belief system to others and are disappointed when they don't act the way we think they should.

What do you do when expectations are not met? ›

5 Ways To Deal With Unmet Expectations
  1. Manage your expectations. Make sure you set realistic goals and expectations. ...
  2. Realize and accept you are not in control of everything. Accept that fact. ...
  3. You are in control of many things. Know what you can control. ...
  4. Look in the mirror. ...
  5. Move on to greener pastures.
14 Jul 2017


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