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Get over yourself – handling client feedback

On a prominent freelancing group page, one of the most common complaints is: “My client wants to do things his way, and it’s a terrible approach. What do I do?”

As consultants, we are hired for our expertise. After 20-odd years in market research, guiding people through the process of having a discussion with their market feels good – it reminds me that, while I may not be good at everything, I’m an expert in this area.

It can be challenging when a client does not share my vision of what direction to take a project. Sometimes, this comes from their inexperience. Sharing the why behind my recommendations will generally address that. But other times, they see my vision, and they don’t share it. That’s when it gets tough.

Over the years, I’ve had to address the ego/insecurity reaction that I can get when someone wants to go another way. It used to feel like a (polite) attack on my expertise – like they were saying that they knew better. Occasionally, it also stings because I recognize that their approach may be a better fit with the project, and I’m disappointed in myself for not getting there first.

It took me longer than it should to get on board with the fact that, subject matter expert or not, two heads are often still better than one. I may know market research, but I don’t know their market, and their audience, as well as they do. I also don’t know their needs and preferences like they do.

When it’s constructively given, feedback typically serves to make a project better. I have also found that, unless the changes are surface-level, it’s also a hint that I haven’t completely caught the point of what my client wants to accomplish with this project.

I’ve learned that the best way to address client suggestions is to say “That’s an interesting approach. Tell me why you’d prefer to do it that way.” I often get a surprising response where I finally learn the information or insight that my client is really hoping to capture. The information that the client either forgot to mention in the brief, or struggled to articulate in a meaningful way.

It’s often a struggle to get a good brief at the beginning of a project because it can be very difficult for clients to put their objectives into words when they’re not used to doing it. I always thought this was strange until I hired a web designer and realized how difficult briefing can be. If you don’t have experience in the field, it can be a struggle to get your thoughts across.

Get over yourself – handling client feedback

If a client’s feedback stings, ask yourself – is this coming from a place of ego or is there really no way s/he could be right? Generally speaking, when feedback hurts, it’s because we secretly feel there may be some truth to it. Treating client ideas with respect and asking the why behind them can give you more insight on their needs than an entire briefing session.

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