Diplomacy 101: How to Talk to Clients When They’re Fuming…or You Are
If you’re a freelance writer offering copywriting services, it’s bound to happen sooner or later: you will lock horns with a client. It always starts simply enough. You’re happy with your draft; it was a well-crafted piece that followed the client’s guidelines to a tee. You may even have spent a little extra time with it, looking up credible source material or adding those cute nautical terms to the article about cruise lines. Then you see a message in your inbox. The client is not happy: The style is all wrong; the prose is too passive. You try to fix the piece. After all, revisions are part of the package, right? But it’s thrown back. Now the client is mad. You’re wasting his time, he writes. Fix this or give it to someone who can!
Now you’re angry, too. Your article was just fine. What’s this guy’s problem? In this day and age of forum flame wars and snarky blog comments, you may be tempted to pound out a scathing reply and hit that send button with a resounding thump, but hold on a moment before you do. There’s more at stake here than a momentary feeling of vindication. If you’re a professional writer, you need to separate your feelings from your work. If you are rude, you will lose this client and any further assignments he might send you. If you use a content company to find writing assignments, you risk expulsion from the site.
So, what can you do if you’re starting to see red? Here are a few simple things to try.
- Take a deep breath – Literally. Stand up, walk away from your computer and take several deep, slow breaths. Go outside. Get yourself a cool glass of iced tea. The Mayo Clinic suggests reading something funny. Do whatever it takes to calm yourself down. None of us make good decisions when we’re fuming.
- Look at the situation from the client’s point of view – You’re working hard trying to earn a living, but your client is likely a working stiff, too. She may be a web designer or even a small business owner just trying to get the content she needs to do her own job. Keep that in mind as you try to work through the issues between you.
- Address your client’s concerns – Nothing is more calming when things are going wrong than feeling understood. Say to your client, “I know this project is important to you,” or “I understand you’re on a deadline.” When people feel their own needs are understood, they can be more empathic to the needs of others.
- Always, always remain professional – In a working relationship, there is never a good reason to be unprofessional. It’s not only a requirement for most jobs, but it can also help you retain an important level of perspective. This is just a job, after all. The client only critiqued your work, not your personality or your self worth.
In the long history of the world, very few people have ever regretted staying calm, measured and considerate during a crisis. In a professional relationship, there is nothing to lose by doing so and a whole lot to gain.
Kate C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.