Don’t Take on a Client Who Can’t Answer These 7 Questions

As a conflict consultant, mediator, conflict coach or a motivational speaker, are you continually frustrated when you arrive at a clients’ business and they immediately hit you with a problem that they want solved cheaply, immediately and permanently?


They want you to come in, put on a Band-Aid and then leave, but not before answering these questions laid out here if you can’t, then getting thrown out of the door. Or never getting a callback on a project that you know your skills would be perfect for.

And if you can’t answer them to the client’s satisfaction, then you risk getting thrown out of the door.

Or never getting a callback on a project that you know your skills would be perfect for.

Meanwhile, as a professional with years of, not only academic experience, but also practical experience, you can tell from the decision maker’s, or gatekeeper’s, immediate description of the conflict or issue, that the problem is so much deeper. And that a cosmetic solution is not going to work.

And that a cosmetic solution is not going to work.

Here are seven questions to ask they about their business that will help you weed through the clients who are seriously committed to changing their organizational cultures from those who are only committed to the now, the immediate and the solution that will keep them out of litigation.

  1. What kind of conflicts do you have in your business right now? Every business has conflicts: Between managers and managers, between employees and managers and between executives and management. If the client isn’t self-aware enough to acknowledge that honestly, then that’s a problem.
  1. How are your responses to conflicts living up to the core values of your business? Punting (avoidance), false empowerment of employees and managers (accommodation) or going to legal and then firing somebody (attack) are all responses to conflicts. Sometimes the responses are representative of true core values, not the ones published on the masthead.
  1. Have you ever failed personally at resolving a business conflict? Again, the decision maker or gatekeeper should have a certain level of self-awareness and accountability around all their business decisions: from the fun financial ones to the difficult personnel ones.
  1. What non-HR, non-legal related systems do you have in place currently to manage employee-employee and employee-supervisor conflicts? HR exists to understand laws and regulations, to engage in on-boarding new employees and to retain older employees. Legal exists to litigate, purely and simply. Neither of these departments in an organization are always useful for dealing with behavioral, cognitive based conflicts in a business.
  1. How do you let people go? Organizational cultures grow up around three areas: recruiting and hiring, training and retaining and firing and laying off employees. How the last area is addressed is key to understanding how deep organizational dysfunction goes.
  1. When was the last time you examined how you deal with conflicts in your business personally?This reads like a therapeutic question, but decision makers and gatekeepers are people first before anything else. And everybody learns how to address difficulty starting at home as a child.
  1. We have been talking for 45 minutes now, describe for me how you see me challenging your business culture to evolve and grow? Resolving conflicts, teaching new skills to employees and managers and addressing engagement requires businesses to evolve in their business models.

This is inherently a challenge, but such radical growth allows a company to shift in an economy increasingly built on a model of not only clients but also employees, acting as brand ambassadors on social media, word-of-mouth and in a collaborative economy.

And really, all of these questions, for you as a conflict resolution professional, should serve to provide you understanding and to answer the real question: Are the clients open to the hard, disruptive challenge of true, meaningful and lasting change, or do they just want a cosmetic, Band-Aid application?

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)