Maybe a new client doesn't match your style. Maybe they're demanding (or cheap). Or perhaps they're just annoying as hell.It's easy to grow to resent them as time goes on, which will ultimately have a negative impact on the quality of your work.“Perhaps you end up cutting corners to get it done, or feeling less invested so unconsciously putting less time and effort into the project,” says Denver psychotherapist and speaker Brittany Bouffard, LCSW. But it isn’t just your craft that could suffer as a result: “Even if your work is the same quality, there likely will be interpersonal stress impacting you.”Luckily, another reality of being self-employed is that you don’t have to put up with a frustrating client forever. Here’s how to let go of resentment—and when to know when it’s time to cut ties for good.
“Try to not match their harsh or condescending or abrupt tone,” Bouffard says. “Stick with the tone and energy you want, as much as is possible.” Before getting on a call or emailing a bothersome client, don’t focus on the nasty or confusing things they might say. Instead, Bouffard says to “picture the zen, calm, assertive manner you’d like to present yourself, where you don’t give in to defensiveness or worry.” This takes practice, but in the long run, you’re better off demonstrating how you’d like to be spoken to by speaking to your clients in that same way.
When you’re working with a difficult client, corresponding and collaborating can be frustrating. Bouffard offers a quick (and funny) visualization exercise to squash any feelings of intimidation ahead of your next meeting: “Picture the client smaller in your mind, shrink their size or voice in your imagination, helping you somatically regain some semblance of power balance. You can imagine them three inches tall, silenced, and in clown pajamas.” If you can picture your client in a silly light, you may find it easier to speak with them, ask them questions, and even negotiate with them when the time comes.
Harboring resentment toward a client can easily lead you to bottle up your feelings, allowing them to simmer below the surface until, inevitably, you blow up at the worst possible time. That's why Bouffard emphasizes the importance of journaling, specifically about the client who’s getting to you. “Type or write out your thoughts about them without stopping, no editing, letting the arc of emotions rise and naturally release,” she says. You can even write a fake letter to them in which you call out their toxicity. “These methods can help release the emotion in job-safe ways.”She recommends venting to loved ones, as long as you're willing to listen to their own experiences with difficult colleagues. But if all you want to do is complain, start with your journal.
“Your boundaries are important in every aspect of your life work,” Bouffard says. “You are allowed to say no to an anxiety-provoking, harmful, abusive relationship of any form in your life, even if you’re worried it might hurt your bottom line.” Your comfort needs to be a top priority. Keep that in mind when an unpleasant client offers you more work or a contract renewal. Honor your needs and tell them you can’t take on more work from them at the moment. ”Even if the client isn’t emotionally hurtful, but maybe has incomprehensible demands or a terrible personality, consider how your body would feel if you picture letting them go as a client,” she suggests. If just the thought of letting that client go sends a rush of relief through your body, that’s a sign that the relationship needs to end. (Related: 3 Signs You Should Fire Your Terrible Client (And How to Do It))
Bouffard recommends preparing a few open-ended questions about a prospective client's preferences. “Ask to describe a previous creative collaboration that went well for them. If there isn’t one, that’s important!” she says. And don’t be afraid to outline your own needs and preferences in the same conversation. If you expect prompt and adequate pay, constructive notes, and reasonable deadlines, tell that potential client directly. “Be firm and clear in your ways. A bad fit might just opt themselves out for you,” Bouffard says.
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