Fight or Flight

What’s on the iPod: Itchin’ on a Photograph by Grouplove

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A slow, slightly frustrating day yesterday. I did get done all I had to, but little of what I wanted to. I have an article due that’s hanging over me like an anvil in a bad Road Runner cartoon. I know exactly what I want to write, but I lack the expert sources to finish it. I don’t want to call it dead because that’s not who I am. I’m about to get on the phone and start dragging information out of people.

Recently I was relating an incident that happened years ago involving a lawyer who wasn’t communicating with me at all. I fired him, stating quite clearly in my letter why, why I wouldn’t be paying the fee he never earned, and where to send my file, including my new attorney’s address. His response was comical at best: he had said “I understand that you don’t have the money to pay me. Therefore, I’ve reduced my fee to further accommodate your limited budget. I have sent a note to (new attorney) asking him to counsel you regarding payment of your outstanding bill to me.”


The response my new attorney suggested was this: Ignore him. I did. Never heard from him again.

It was a tactic to try trapping me into paying a fee he hadn’t lifted a finger for. He knew he couldn’t make it stick, as did my new attorney, so it was just lip service.

Yet there are times when clients try to serve up their version of a situation as fact, and in most cases, you don’t want to ignore them necessarily. Why? Because clients, not hearing any objection, may take your silence as assent.  

So when I had a case once where the client called into question my instincts and work process, I spelled out my version so that there were no misunderstandings. She’d thought I should have known everything about her business from the few marketing pieces she wanted me to revise. I told her that unless the information that was missing is conveyed to me, I couldn’t really read her mind. I said it nicely, but I made it known that telepathy is not one of my skills.

So how do you clear up a client’s perception of your work or your skills?

Ignore. Even though there are times you shouldn’t ignore it, there are times, like at the end of a very bad client relationship, where what they think of you doesn’t matter one iota. If the relationship is ending because it was a nightmare caused by a bad client, let it go. Save your energy for finding a new, more appreciative client.

Accommodate. If your client thinks you didn’t understand because you didn’t do a thorough interview to find out his company’s mission, offer to do one at revision time. There’s a chance you didn’t have the information because neither you nor the client realized there was a need for a deeper conversation.

Combat. No, don’t go out hunting for a fight. Do what I did – clear up the misconception by showing your interpretation of the situation. If your client has made a judgment based on one-sided information, show him your side. Like in the case of my client who expected a mind reader, there’s a good chance they don’t realize how little help they were to you.

Cooperate. Probably the best solution to clearing up any client misconception is by bringing your client to your side by asking for help. “I hadn’t realized you had more to say than just that. Can you help me understand a little better what it is you want to say?”

When a client has an entirely different perception of your work than you do, how do you handle it?

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  • Cathy Miller July 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    There were two occasions I can think of when something like this occurred.

    Both times, the client felt I should invest time in writing for them to reap a better reward down the road. Translation: Do this work for free until I hit it big.

    That was after I had done some limited work for them, which I had been paid for, so, silly me, I expected that to continue.

    I professionally thanked them and wished them well and went on my merry (paid) way. 🙂

  • Lori July 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Cathy, isn't it amazing how many times we've been prompted to invest our time without renumeration? I had another offer like that this week. No, I can't write for you and wait for royalties or ad revenue.