5 Phrases For Navigating Difficult Client Conversations


0097447b-21ea-4c90-b88a-fb189307270aSome of the most difficult conversations to navigate as refugee employment professionals are those related to client expectations or difficulties they may be having at work.

Of course we want our clients to be happy and have a job that is fulfilling, but more often than not the first job opportunity that presents itself is not exactly a “dream come true.”

How can we make our clients feel like we care about their preferences and goals, while also helping them make healthy adjustments to their expectations?

These 5 phrases, recently highlighted on career blog The Muse, may be helpful to file away for these delicate conversations:

“That sounds important. Let me write that down.”

This phrase signals that you are listening and that you value your client’s background, skills and preferences.

You can value a client’s perspective even if you don’t agree with their plans or preferences. Doing so builds trust and will likely make them more receptive to hearing you if you need to challenge their perspective later in the conversation.

“Thank you for sharing that with me” or “I’ll keep that in mind” are other phrases that can help build rapport, particularly when you are first getting to know a client.


This phrase can help you motivate clients while also correcting and deepening their understanding of the situation at hand. “Yes, BUT…” indicates that you are not listening or disagree, “Yes…AND” is more collaborative, communicating that you like their idea, but have something else to add or see another helpful angle.

Add this phrase to your mental toolbox and use it when developing employment plans with clients or discussing their expectations. For example, “Yes, I also think that you have the potential to be a supervisor, AND this entry level position is your first step in that direction.”

“Tell me about the last time that happened.”

This phrase helps you not jump to conclusions. This can be particularly helpful for discussing problems clients may be encountering at work. For example, perhaps you have a client who is telling you that they are planning to quit their job because of a specific problem they keep having at work.

“Tell me about the last time that happened” will help your client analyze the situation, provide you with the details you need, and create an opportunity for you and your client to collaborate on possible solutions besides quitting.

“Let me repeat that back to you.”

If you want a classic text book way to make anyone in any situation feel listened to, this is it. Phrases like “Let me repeat that back to you” or “So what I hear you saying is…” help you be sure you clearly understood the person speaking to you.

Once you clearly understand their position, you will be in a better position to take the conversation in a productive direction, and the risk that you will offend them by making false assumptions is much lower.


No matter what culture you’re from, no one likes to have their dreams squashed by someone else. While our position as refugee employment professionals does at times require us to give clients a “healthy dose of reality” it is very important to remain positive and hopeful while helping clients adjust their expectations.

Adding “yet” to the end of your sentence opens possibilities, rather than closing them. “You cannot resume your former career yet.” is worlds apart from “You cannot resume your former career.” The addition of “yet” begs the question “If not now, then when?” and opens up a conversation about the steps that will be necessary to accomplish one’s goals. And that is where you come in!

For more tips related on effective communication for refugee employment professionals, sign up for Higher’s Online Learning Institute, and complete our 3-Part “Employability Assessment” training.

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