Diffusing Tension: 3 Ways To Calm Angry Architecture Clients

August 20, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

Imagine you're a fly on the wall in your architecture firm’s conference room. I was, in a sense, when I was just starting out. I was buzzing with anticipation, waiting to see some sparks fly, perhaps a juicy argument. And boy, was I in for a treat.

It was a gloomy Thursday afternoon, and the atmosphere in the room was thick. The firm's principal was squared off against a client who had a gleam in their eye - they were dead set on using this particular material for their project.

But there was a catch: the material, although popular, was a typical trendy choice – good-looking but not necessarily smart or durable. It was overpriced, tended to wear out super fast, and manufactured without any sense for sustainability. Hard pass!

You can relate, right? There's always that one client who's read one too many design magazines and thinks they're the next Zaha or Bjarke. This client was no different. They were all in, giddy about the shiny (and honestly, sub-par) material they had set their heart on.

If we had a nickel for every time we thought a client conversation was about to go south, we'd have… well, a lot of nickels. The clock ticked on. I was expecting World War III – material choices are like kryptonite for architects. But, within what felt like a mere blink of an eye, the room's dynamics shifted dramatically. The client, who had been all fire and fury a moment ago, was now nodding, seemingly convinced by the principal's alternative material suggestion.

Mind = Blown 🤯

Curiosity got the better of me and, after the meeting, I cornered the principal. "What magic potion did you just serve?" I half-joked. "I was all set for a cage match!"

They laughed. “Small things can make a big impact,” they said. With a knowing smile, the principal revealed a play-by-play of the conversation from their perspective. Three power-packed techniques had just worked their charm.

And let me tell you, I've been wielding these techniques ever since. Any time I see a difficult conversation on the horizon, these three seemingly insignificant details make all the difference. Ready for some magic beans? Here they are:

01 // Start with enthusiasm

Imagine being prepped for a meeting where you expect conflict. Your shoulders are tense, your brows are furrowed, and you're already strategizing your escape route to the nearest coffee shop. But what if the first thing you hear is, "I'm genuinely excited about this chat!"? Boom! You're taken off guard, right?

Clients are no different. Starting with excitement does a mental flip for them. It reassures them that you're not there to lock horns. Instead, you're genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Example in Action:

  • Client: "I think this material is perfect for our design."

  • You: "I'm so excited you have a vision for this project! Let's chat about that material and explore its potential together."

See the difference? It's not about shoving your perspective down their throat but creating an open space where both voices matter.

02 // Affirm everything, every time

Nobody likes to be shut down. And yet, how often have we been quick to say, "No, that won't work"? Here's the trick: Instead of leading with the negatives, we lead with affirmation, even if we’re eventually steering the conversation towards a different conclusion.

Example in Action:

  • Client: "I really believe this material is the best option."

  • You: "Yes, I totally see where you're coming from. That material has some fantastic visual appeal. Out of curiosity, have you considered its longevity and price point?"

The client doesn't feel attacked. They feel heard. And while you're affirming their perspective, you're also nudging them gently towards broader considerations. It’s better to guide them toward the right decision rather than tell them that their current decision is wrong. (read that again - it’s important!)

03 // Name drop (in a good way)

This is the golden nugget of conversational techniques. There’s a reason why Dale Carnegie, in his iconic book "How to Win Friends and Influence People," declared that a person's name is, to them, the sweetest sound in any language.

Using a person's name in conversation makes them feel acknowledged and important. It's not about being a slick talker; it's about fostering connection.

Example in Action:

  • Client: "I'm not sure about changing the material."

  • You: "I get that, Laura. It's a big decision. Let's weigh the pros and cons together."

It's subtle, but the effect? Monumental.


Difficult client conversations don’t have to be akin to diffusing a bomb. Sometimes, all you need are a few simple techniques to steer the discussion towards a win-win. It’s not about telling the client that they’re wrong. It’s about helping them realize what’s right. So, the next time you're gearing up for a cage match, remember:

  1. Start with enthusiasm

  2. Affirm everything, every time

  3. Name drop (in a good way)

And please send me an email after you try this for the first time. I want to hear if it blows your mind too.

Here's to smooth sailing in those choppy client conversation waters. 🚤

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