Being a freelancer is all about making our clients happy. We work tirelessly (and sometimes thanklessly) to make sure that things get done, business stays on schedule, and our clients come out on top.
However, we’re all human, and conflict can arise from time to time. After 5 years of working as a VA, here are some of my top tips for how to handle conflict with your clients.
Before I jump into how to solve conflicts, let's chat about some of the most common conflicts that occur in the client-VA relationship. It is simply a matter of business - and of life, for that matter - that at one point or another, you are going to run into a conflict with one of your clients. Some of the most common reasons for confrontation are:
Situations like these can be stressful to deal with, but knowing what they are ahead of time and having a plan for how to handle them when they do happen will give you confidence. Of course, there are steps that we can take to try and ensure that we don’t make mistakes (check out our blog on productivity here), but what do we do when the mistake has already been made?
Here are four tips to handle these stressful situations:
1. Don’t Let Emotions Cloud Your Judgment:
Although your emotions can play a vital role in empathizing with and relating to clients, they are better left on the sidelines during a conflict situation. Take a deep breath, remember that it is not the intention of your client to upset you (and if it is, it’s likely time to get rid of them!), and leave your emotions completely out of the conversation. Letting your feelings run wild during a conflict can make you seem irrational, defensive, and unprofessional. If you need to take a moment (or a day) to collect yourself, do so and come back prepared to have an honest and emotions-free conversation.
2. Admit to Your Mistakes (Before Your Client Sees Them):
This one is easier said than done, but one of my biggest tips, when you’ve made a mistake, is to ‘fess up. Though it can seem easier to try to put out the fire quickly and quietly, it is often better to come clean to your client before they even realize the mistake has been made. Assess the situation, determine what has gone wrong, and come to your client with an explanation (not an excuse) and with a solution for your error. By coming to your client upfront, you create more trust in a situation where you might have lost trust if you had tried to conceal your mistake. By presenting a solution, you seem prepared, capable, and this is often enough to soften the blow.
3. Be Understanding:
Not all conflicts will be the direct result of your actions - sometimes they are the result of your client’s. Maybe they have unrealistic expectations, they aren’t following through with their part of a project or task, or they simply aren’t communicating well with you. You’re likely to encounter all of these scenarios when you’re working as a freelancer, so how do you mediate them? First things first: start with setting healthy boundaries upfront (check out our post on setting professional boundaries here). Once you have your boundaries set, you will be prepared to handle conflict with more grace and understanding than before. Remember that your client is a person, so when they mess up, they likely feel nervous and a little embarrassed. Approaching your client with an open mind and as much understanding as you can muster when resolving conflict will take you far.
4. Don’t get defensive:
We touched on this one above, but it’s worth mentioning again. Being mindful of your defensiveness is extremely important when handling client conflict. You never want one of your clients to feel like you are arguing with them or trying to avoid responsibility. When something does go wrong, remain calm, and own up to what happened. Try to see the situation through your client’s eyes and remember that their intention is to make sure things are getting done per their timeline and expectations, not to hurt or belittle you.
Now that you have some tools in your pocket to handle client conflict, hopefully, the idea seems a little less scary. To summarize: (1) keep your emotions in check, (2) admit to your mistakes, (3) practice understanding, and (4) don’t get defensive. Always remember that your client is human just like you are, and don’t lose sight of your #1 goal as a VA: making sure your clients are happy with your work. Ultimately, a small one-off conflict is not going to make or break a relationship, so remain calm, be gentle with yourself, and remember you’ve got this!
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Author: Camryn Pickworth
As the head VA and owner of The First Pick VA Group I have found such great joy in sharing my experiences and top tips with other freelancers and aspiring VA's. I hope that our blog can service as a great reference for VA's and Clients alike!