My approach is to set myself up as the harbinger of Doom right from the start. I make it very clear that my communication style is one of simple, unadorned, straight-talking language and that I don't mince words.
I make sure the client understands that the "fault" of speaking directly lies with me, and they are not to feel offended when I use firm words.
I have found this approach to work more than 80% of the time, even with fragile egos.
As a general rule, I adjudge a person's basic personality type and adjust the language style to their preferred mode. Accept that between 15–20% people are just plain thin-skinned, and you'll never appease them, no matter what you say.
Jef Lippiatt Owner at Startup Chucktown
If you were hired by the business owner as a consultant or outside vendor, it is your duty to remind them that they sought you out.
Remind them that you are trying to help them improve their business not hurt it. Remind them that you understand change won't necessarily be easy, but refusing to change to cause long term damage to their business if they don't make adjustments now.
Candice Meisels Owner and PR Consultant at Candice Meisels PR
Providing feedback is vital... It's all about the manner in which you do it in...
If you know that the business owner is sensitive, then ensure that you provide feedback in an extremely sensitive yet professional manner.
e.g I just wanted to provide you with my thoughts with regards to X.
I thought that you may be interested in my opinion about
I have put together some feedback for you. Please feel free to take it on board if you wish to do so...
Here are some tips. If they work for you, then feel free to use them, if not then please feel free to disagree or not use them.
I would love to know the background to this question.
If it is a client, it's worth considering if they are worth being a client if they are so sensitive to criticism.
If it is a partner or a supplier, it might be worth considering if it is worth doing business with them if they are so sensitive to criticism.
I believe, for a business owner to continue to be successful, they will need to understand how to take criticism well by using it in a positive way to improve.
Sandwiching can work well. Say something nice about the person, then tell them the criticism and then say something nice about the person again.
Many clients want to be the Hollywood actor, producer and director all wrapped into one. It's tough to find that happy balance. Sometimes you need to go along more with the clients ideas even if you don't fully agree to keep the peace.
It's a balancing act to keep them happy, involved and excited to work with you, while still being seen as the trusted adviser in your area of expertise.