Recently, I had the misfortune of being contacted by a man who had done some work for me. It had been a year since we’d talked and since things ended well, I was shocked when a year later, he accused me of copyright violation and of various other heinous crimes, including being too stupid to understand technology.

Understand that this man was not a client. I was his client. He had performed a service for me. He was being paid by another party, so he and I had not standing contract between us. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is how he, an alleged professional, behaved.

His email to me accused me of using his work without his permission. Yet emails I’d saved clearly indicated his implied permission. (Note: ALWAYS keep business emails as you never know when you’ll need them) I had the evidence on my side. The situation has since been resolved, but my opinion of this man and his demeanor is irreparably damaged.

That brings me to you: yes, you. How are you approaching your clients when you have a disagreement or a miscommunication? Are you going in with guns blazing, calling your client names or accusing your client of criminal acts? If so, prepare for word to get around about how difficult you are.

If there’s a disagreement, be prompt in bringing it up with your client. Don’t wait a year or even a month. If your client is under the impression all is well, the lapse in time will leave him confused and wondering what your real motives are a year later.

Also, make sure you explain fully what you think is the problem. Be careful here. Don’t blame, don’t accuse and certainly never call names. State where the problem area lies. If you think it was a problem caused by poor communication, take responsibility for your part in it.

Once you explain the problem, ask your client to help you come to an agreement. Offer suggestions only if you know your client will be open to them. State what you hope to accomplish and how you would like to see the problem solved. In all cases, make sure your tone remains professional, open and approachable. Never ever accuse a client of something unless you’re suing him. And even then, accusations belong in court papers, not in emails or written or spoken correspondence.

Let’s now assume that your client is upset with you. How will you handle that? Your best approach is to shed the emotional response right away–emotion never belongs in business dealings. Read or repeat your client’s upset until you understand what the core message is. Then and only then can you address it.

No matter how badly the negotiations turn out, always wish your client well and never ever resort to telling him how you really feel. You aren’t representing your own personality–you’re representing your business. Every communication you have should be professional and courteous, even if your client’s just called you a no-talent hack. His opinion of you is just that–an opinion. It does not reflect your business.

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  • Devon Ellington March 20, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    I agree. I also think there are times when you simply don’t work with the person again. One of my favorite phrases is, “I wish X a long and happy life — far away from me!”

    There are times when disentangling yourself — with courtesy — is better in the long run. I’d rather not work with someone again than be treated badly.

    I hate to burn bridges, but every once in awhile, it’s best to keep the drawbridge lifted and prevent another crossing.

  • Lori March 20, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Devon, you make a great point. Writers definitely should know that despite your best efforts, there will be times when you just cannot work with someone. And for your own sanity, you should understand that and allow yourself to let go. Who needs the stress? 🙂