Everyone has a client who likes to micro-manage. One such client of mine – a regular and fairly lucrative one – had been present during an entire day of décor setup for a large theme event for their national sales staff. I had delegated the authority for setup to one of my long-time designers who was accustomed to lengthy and complex setups, but who had not worked with this particular client before. By the time I arrived onsite to supervise the event itself, I was confronted by a very distressed designer who claimed that the client had driven her to tears with incessant requests for minor changes to the décor. This had put her behind schedule and there was a good chance that the setup would not be complete on time. She had neglected to call me prior to my arrival thinking that she could handle the situation but it had proven too much.
I needed to resolve this conflict fast. Fortunately, it was not an all-out personality clash, but rather a continuing annoyance. I approached both parties separately to try to resolve the problem. My first concern was to try to calm my designer who still had a considerable amount of work to accomplish. I basically told her that she should only communicate with me now that I was onsite and not directly with the client any longer. Likewise, I politely asked the client to try to minimize changes from now on as we were on a very tight schedule. I reassured her that once all the décor was in place the venue would look spectacular. Since we had a good relationship, she agreed to my request. The event turned out well and the client was very pleased.
What were the conflict resolution principles in play here? First, I purposely kept both parties separated in order not to trigger any arguments. Second, I tried to keep both parties calm and focused on completing the event setup rather than focusing on their disagreements, part of which the designer interpreted as an insult to her creative ability.