FFFF Framework: How To Use Empathy With Clients As An Architect

January 22, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

How many conversations have you had with prospective and active clients?

And how often do you hear the same challenges, concerns, and objections?

75% of the time? Maybe even 95% of the time? Let’s just say most of the time.

Here’s the deal: Most clients think their situation is unique. But we know it’s not. Because we hear variations of the same situation week after week after week.

I experience this on a daily basis. I’ve had 1000+ conversations with architecture leaders since I started working at Monograph. And nearly every firm I speak to is facing some variation of the same 3-5 challenges. (More on those another time - that’s not what today is about!)

The question is: how do you respond to a prospect or client that thinks their situation is unique when you know it isn’t?

There’s a fine line between ignoring the commonality of their situation and writing it off by saying that you hear this all the time.

If you ignore it, then you miss an opportunity to exemplify your own value and knowledge. If you write it off, then you run the risk of making your client feel unimportant and unheard.

The good news is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can exemplify your value and make your client feel heard and understood.

Time to talk about some friendlier F-words to use with your clients. (Just checking to make sure you’re still with me.)

Enter the sorcery that is Feel, Felt, Found, Follow-Up (FFFF).

What is FFFF?

FFFF is a framework for using empathy in your conversations. It helps you to acknowledge how your client is feeling while also positioning yourself or your firm as the best solution.

However, it’s important to note that it has to be genuine. Don’t use it if it’s not true. Don’t use it if you don’t actually believe in what you’re saying.

Here’s how it works:

  • Feel: “I completely understand how you feel.”

  • Felt: “We’ve had a few clients that have felt the same way.”

  • Found: “What they’ve found is…”

  • Follow-Up: End with a relevant, open-ended question.

Now that you know what it is, let’s talk about how you can use it.

Identify Common Themes

What are those common situations that most of your clients encounter?

It’s easiest to break them down into a few categories:

  1. Project Challenges: Yes, every project is unique but even those unique aspects tend to fall under common categories. For example, things like difficult site conditions, material delays, or increasing costs.

  2. Objections: Think about the things that most of your clients will say at some point. For example, responses about your fee being high, or timeline being too long, or wanting to manage the construction on their own.

  3. Feelings: The lifecycle of a project is long enough for your client to experience plenty of different and even opposite feelings. For example, feelings of fear, hesitancy, or impatience.

Take a moment to jot down 2-3 items for each category.

Build ‘Em Up

We just completed the CD’s, now it’s time to execute on the construction. (Sorry, I haven’t made a good architecture pun in a while and I couldn’t help myself.)

Take each of the items that you jotted down in the previous step and write out an FFFF response for each.

For example, if you’re responding to a high fee objection:

  • Feel: “I completely understand how you feel.”

  • Felt: “A few of our clients have felt the same initial concern.”

  • Found: “What they’ve found is that the return on their investment from working with us is significantly more than it would be if you chose a cheaper and less specific option.”

  • Follow-Up: “How important is it for you to have a good amount of equity in the project once it’s complete?”

Or, if you’re responding to feelings of hesitancy:

  • Feel: “I completely understand how you feel.”

  • Felt: “Most clients have felt hesitancy at some point in the process.”

  • Found: “What they’ve found is that by focusing on the positive impact that this project will have their lives, they’re able to easily focus on next steps.”

  • Follow-Up: “What aspect of your new {home/office/building} are you most excited about?”

Yes, write down an FFFF response for each item 🙂

Practice + Deploy

The truth is that this is going to feel a bit funny the first few times you try it. You’ll fumble your words a bit. It won’t come out exactly as intended. That’s why you’ll want to practice first.

Set up a five-minute session with your business partner. Or your life partner. Or you dog. It really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you run through these a few times before you try them live.

And when you’re finally ready, be sure not to jump at the first sign of a common issue. Ask a couple of questions first to ensure that you understand the client’s perspective. Then drop in the FFFF to drive the conversation forward.


Feel, Felt, Found, Follow-Up (FFFF) is a framework for employing empathy into your client conversations. It helps to exemplify your value while making your client feel heard and understood.

Start using it today:

  1. Identify Common Themes: Jot down common project challenges, objections, and feelings that arise with your clients and prospects.

  2. Build ‘Em Up: Create an FFFF statement for each common situation from step 1.

  3. Practice + Deploy: Practice each statement and patiently utilize with clients.

Let me know how it goes!

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