If you’ve ever watched House of Lies, Mad Men or The Entourage, you might think that the life as a freelancer is pretty exhilarating and action packed. In reality, the amount of drama is actually quite limited and you have complete control over the types of people you work with to manage these situations.
It’s not always butterflies and sugar plums though.
Sometimes you run into issues with clients that require a bit of grace and empathy. If you work with a client long enough, it’s important to recognize that when times get tough – you remember that these times are temporary and that your reactions can play a huge role in the long term. I believe you learn more a lot more about someone in the moments of struggle than you can in the moments of triumph.
As a freelancer, I found myself in many scenarios in which I had to manage a client relationship with grace and ensure that no feelings were hurt. It could have been when a client made a poor decision or when they were struggling to execute a certain task – but in every case – I’ve yet to come out with both parties feeling disheartened and angry. Here are a few of the things I like to keep in mind when dealing with client conflicts:
1) Embrace conflict instead of sweeping it under the rug. I’ve always found that people who push conflict aside tend to let things fester longer and ultimately result in bigger blow ups down the road. If you deal with an issue quickly, you have a better chance of minimizing the impact and severity of an issue.
2) Use radical candor. Kim Scott has a simple goal: Create bullshit-free zones where people love their work. You can only create an environment like this if you embrace the idea of telling people when they’re screwing up. To do this you need to do two things: (1) care personally and (2) challenge directly. In this post on First Round’s blog, she goes into more detail on this topic. The following TED talk is a must watch for anyone looking to learn more about this approach (must watch):
3) For someone who works in the field of communications, I’ve found that people in the marketing world often struggle with communicating with clients. Conflict often rises directly from this. Someone didn’t explicitly state what they wanted or wasn’t clear when identifying next steps. Ask questions and require clarity. Don’t make assumptions.
4) Recognize that there are ways to deescalate a conflict if things feel they’re going sideways. Whether it’s listening or apologizing – de-escalating a conflict with a client can be the difference between being fired or not.
5) Stay calm even when the conversation gets tense. Understand that you shouldn’t take any of the feedback coming from a client personal and focus on the work. Remove yourself from the equation and stay emotionally unattached to the deliverables so you can have a clear perspective and empathize with the client’s position. If you struggle with staying calm, here are a few tips for staying under control.
Working as a freelancer might sound like an easy gig but it’s not as simple as doing the work. You also need to know how to manage relationships and a variety of other tasks. I’m hopeful that the strategies highlighted above will help you manage conflict more effectively as a freelancer.
If you want more tips and advice on what it takes to be a successful freelancer, check out my personal 100 tips for making your first $100k.