What I’m listening to: Hey There Delilah by Plain White T’s
After a week that, for the most part, was internet-free, I’m back to a mountain of emails.
I was thinking about an encounter I’d had a while back, and it was one that tested my ability to draw clear boundaries. And if you know me at all, you know I think strong professional boundaries make for better client relationships, better work results, and better business results.
Yet in this particular encounter, the client’s emotional outburst upset that balance. And I let it happen.
I won’t go into details as they’re not all that important, but what is important is my reaction. I reacted to strong emotion by acquiescing. I wanted to make this client happy, though after practically being accused of unethical behavior, I should have told the client no. And I would have done so in a much more professional manner than was coming from the client.
I remember being really upset about the whole situation — with the client and mostly with myself for not stopping the spiral cold. I entered the maelstrom, and I resented the client, and to be honest, myself. I let someone push at my boundaries and breach them.
So what do you do when faced with a situation that threatens to break down your boundaries?
Insert a time-out. That scathing email or nasty phone message does not have to be answered immediately. Pause. Think. Go over the facts. Don’t respond until you’re in a better place.
Remove emotion. Look at the client’s points without the emotional nonsense. Is there a valid point in there somewhere? Are you at fault for anything? If so, how do you propose to fix it? If not, how do you plan to let the client know your position?
Assert cordially. Let’s face it — if your client has sent a harsh email or left a stinging voice message, you’re going to get more of the same when you respond. Again, remove emotion. No pointing the finger, no answering emotionally charged questioning — stick to the facts.
Jot down your points. In my case, the client had it all wrong, and was bordering on sounding like an employer, basically dictating that I couldn’t work for another client at the same time I was working for this client. In that case, it would have been wise of me to point that out, that because I am a freelance writer, I am not beholden to one client. Unless I was disparaging client A in client B’s project or I’d signed some non-compete agreement, it’s not for the client to tell me what I can and cannot do. So I should have written down my points before picking up the phone.
Insert a Stop sign. Suppose you agree to fix something that isn’t really broken. It’s a good-faith move on your part. Yet the target keeps moving, and you’re now stuck in a vortex of “No, I need this now” requests. Stop. Pull the plug and tell the client why. Point out evidence if there is any that you’ve done your job and then some. Keep emotion out of it completely. No angry words, no exasperation, no pushing. Just facts. And don’t respond to the backlash — that keeps you locked in a he said/she said argument that’s pointless and unprofessional.
Writers, has a client ever pushed your boundaries?
How did you handle situations where the client was leading with emotions?