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Handle client conflict like a pro

“I certainly didn’t expect you’d do it that way. I wouldn’t have agreed if I’d known,” said my client, her disappointment evident.

One of the toughest things about being a freelancer is when your client is disappointed or upset. Even if you take the time to really understand a client’s needs and properly set expectations, conflict will occasionally arise.

Our first instinct is to go into blame mode. We get defensive. We’ve tried hard. We’ve done everything we could. It’s clearly not our fault.

Or, is it?

Handle Client Conflict Like a Pro

Adar Cohen, a conflict resolution expert, says: “conflict is information, and handled well, conflict is opportunity.”

The reality is that a client who gives you negative feedback (constructively) is invested in working with you.

Think about it – very few people like giving negative feedback. If someone is willing to do it, it’s because they want this relationship to work.

There are occasions when I stopped working with a provider because the work was subpar. I wasn’t invested enough to address it with them, I just moved on.

But when I value a provider, I’m willing to have tough conversations.

In difficult situations, I ask myself “what would the person I want to be do right now?” This question takes me out of my ego and into a more intellectual place. It also helps me to see all the defense mechanisms I’ve built up.

Handling this situation well means opening ourselves up to the idea that we’ve helped create it. Whether it’s something we did or didn’t do, something we failed to communicate or an expectation we didn’t set, there is learning for us here.

To understand that learning, we have to steer into the skid, aka move into the conflict. Ask constructive questions, and really listen to the answers.

Keep the focus on understanding your client better versus being understood. See the project from their perspective and it’s easier to see their needs.

Be honest if you need time to process before you can come up with a solution.

Recognize that you can be (partly) to blame and still be an excellent service provider. In fact, constructive conflict resolution demonstrates the quality of the service you offer.

Thank the client for their frankness. I know, you don’t want to. Life isn’t always fun.

Continue to give it your all. A strong finish goes a long way towards smoothing over a bumpy middle.

Once it’s over, consciously choose what to take away from the situation and what to leave behind. Take the learnings and leave the hard feelings.

It’s time to move on.

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Handle Client Conflict Like a Pro blog post

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