5 Ways to Show Tough Love to Clients

Posted on in Blog

Showing tough love to clients is a tool you must know how to use effectively, or you run the risk of getting run over on projects and finding yourself with way too many headaches.

The reality is that you will face moments within projects when you need to establish boundaries that require clients to take responsibility for their actions. These are moments where you will need to show tough love.

Here are five ways to do so.

1. Stay Calm

First and foremost, tough love is not found in the volume of a screaming match. Instead, tough love is strategic, calm, and it lends itself towards action and solutions. Do what it takes to stay calm when showing tough love.

For example, one of my personal rules is that I don’t respond to crisis with crisis. As a result, whenever experiencing a crisis I will repeat this mantra in my head as a way to calm myself down. I also actively tell my team that I don’t respond to crisis with crisis. This helps to create an extra layer of accountability.

2. Have the Proper Motivation

Showing tough love is not about being unkind or spiteful. Instead, tough love is motivated by respect for the other person, and a desire to see the project successfully move forward.

3. Happiness is Not Your Goal

The goal within every project is to always ensure that everyone is happy. Nope.

The goal is to complete the work and achieve success, and this is hard to do if you are unwilling to show tough love. Instead, you must do the work to create an environment where key stakeholders take responsibility for their actions, hold each other accountable, and work together to push a project forward.

This does not guarantee everyone will be happy all of the time. And that is fine.

4. Identify Responsibility

At the end of the day, you must ensure that your clients take responsibility for their actions. There will be times when you have to “pull the rug” from under your clients.

I like to begin by shredding the peripherals, or getting rid of all of the aspects of the situation that are nonessential.

And frankly, while these are often things like “He’s a (fill in the blank),” you must look to shred peripherals that aren’t so easy. This might be the fact that you made a mistake earlier in the project, and you are allowing it to stifle your willingness to show tough love. Your earlier mistake doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the current situation. Take the time to shred these peripherals.

You have to speak the truth. It has to be done.

5. Be Gracious

At the end of the day, graciousness is the yeast that leavens the bread of tough love.

Tough love is not only hard to give, but it is hard to receive, and at the end of the day you must allow your clients to accept responsibility for their actions within a context of graciousness. Doing so will help your project get back on track, and move forward to completion.

When I was a kid, my parents took a discipline approach that exemplifies what it means to be gracious in showing tough love. It was simple. Every time they had to show tough love, they would say, “Jared, no matter what you do, nothing changes the fact that I love you.”

Okay, I get it. You don’t need to love your clients like a parent loves a child. This isn’t a place for sentimentality.

But the key here is that when being gracious, you create a context that allows for tough love to be given and received in a productive manner. This will result in an easy pathway for the project to get back on track.


When have you had to show tough love to a client? What happened?

Finally, if there is one thing I want you to know about Oneupweb, it is our capabilities. Put simply, when it comes to digital marketing, we do it all. Tough love included!

{Image Credit: PhoenixPhantom Flickr}

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