Navigating Difficult Conversations With Clients

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

We may not be as stressed as we were a year ago, but many hospitality professionals, including salespeople, are drained, just as the majority of their customers are. And when customers offload their heavy feelings on salespeople, it can be tough to avoid internalizing those feelings and becoming even more burnt out.

Members of HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council recently discussed how they navigate these difficult conversations and release the stress that comes with them. Here are key takeaways from their conversation.


  • “I think most of the time from my experience, people just want someone to listen. And if you do that, then I feel like that’s how you can connect with them, just by having empathy.”
  • “During these times, the best situation is to just let them release whatever feelings they have and empathize with them. All they want to do is have someone to talk to. I talked to a guest a few days ago and she just unloaded for 45 minutes and I just sat there and listened. When she was done, she said, ‘Thank you so much. I haven’t had anyone that’s had the time to just sit there and listen to what have I been going through.’”


  • “You give a lot in that interaction and you’re left with little afterwards. You feel kind of drained. My recommendation is taking a walk or FaceTiming with your baby, whatever helps you, but you need to ground yourself after those calls. It’s not okay to just keep powering through. You need to digest that interaction, so that it doesn’t internalize and go home with you.”
  • “I make a fun little bingo card to cross off on personal releases. You have to find your personal release, whether it’s yoga or watching a movie or just taking a shower. I use that as a weekly reminder that I need to make at least one bingo this week and do a bit of self-care.”
  • “I’m the worst at trying to do too many things and once you’re done with a long conversation, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that took forever. I have to make up for lost time.’ But instead, take a walk or go outside or get a nice tea. Just do something to reset your mind.”


  • “We have a tool that we use called LEAP — listen, empathize, ask, and produce. You listen first and show them empathy. And then just be able to ask some questions and find out if there’s something you can do for them. And that can lead to something to help with that issue, or it can help continue to build your strong business relationship, because maybe you’re able to turn the conversation back to business and what you both can do for each other.”
  • “I use SNAP, which is stop, notice, ask, and pivot, which helps me with the emotional intelligence part of it. Because when you start internalizing that information, it starts making you less efficient with your day because you’re only thinking about that. The pause that comes first is really helpful.”
  • “One thing that’s really helped me is this: I think all of us have done this in reading an email. We take a certain tone with it because it just seems like that’s the tone of the email. And then I can feel myself getting riled up in it, and I’ll say, ‘Nope, I’m just going to set it aside.’ And I’ll actually go back and reread it later and realize that they’re not saying what I interpreted. I know it’s basic and it’s something we talk about, but I’ve found myself misinterpreting something that can be taken out of context, and taking that pause helps me get perspective back.”


  • “We do have to remember that we aren’t therapists, that isn’t our job. We feel like we are, if there’s a client that really has something to say, but I think we do have to remember that it’s not our role as a professional in business to give them advice. Even if you’re friends with the client, they’re never really your friend, they’re your client first.”
  • “I felt a lot of pressure to maintain that relationship with a longstanding client who was offloading with me. Sometimes you get put in a position where you have no choice. You have to listen. It leaves you in a situation where you don’t ever want to talk to them again and they’re going to be on property at one point. I didn’t like the way it left me feeling and I didn’t like this imprint our conversation left on me, but it is what it is.”


  • “You can’t trust what you see on social media. People can make things look really fantastic and social media may be an outlet for some people, but it’s important to really check in with them.”
  • “It’s always good to try to find out and stay in touch with others and find out what is going on. We had a long-term client ghost us in the past few months, and we thought that it was on our side. When we finally were able to make a connection, it turned out that it was a personal issue that they were going through. It’s important to be sensitive to clients’ personal things, both COVID and non-COVID related.”
  • “If you haven’t talked to somebody in a while that you work with or used to work with, it’s really important to check in on each other as well. Your direct team, your old team, I just really encourage that, because you never know what somebody is going through.”

Categories: Sales
Insight Type: Articles