How not to get very angry by client’s feedback

When you are in a creative profession, you are going to get feedback. The expectation is that this helps you complete a project or piece of work to the satisfaction of the client, and fulfills all expectations to the maximum. You hope for positive feedback, or at the very least constructive feedback but sometimes…

You start out by repeating to yourself that all feedback is useful, you’ll take the positives from all the comments, you’ll correct and improve whatever isn’t liked and move forwards like the constantly flowing rivers to the ocean to success. This is easy said, but like many things not so easily done.

Setting The Scene

Okay, so you got the project, the client has agreed to your price and you’ve started working. Ideas are coming thick and fast, the communication seems clear. What’s not to like? Everything seems perfect so far, until… you send the project to the client.

You had the great idea of offering the client revisions, maybe even unlimited revisions. It helped clinch the deal and nobody actually uses unlimited revisions, do they? But then the client’s feedback started to roll in…and lots of it, tons of it…..

Minor things like – “Could you please make the logo stand out a bit more”, or “Could you please move the sign up button 2px to the left” – Seriously ?! Surely they are just revising this for the sake of using their unlimited revision to the max.

So you or your team gave 110% to makе the client happy, but… he is not even close to happy, he is actually the opposite (or it might just look that way). You know what you are doing, you are experienced, professional, confident and the client comes along with these irritations.

But at the end of the day, it’s the client who will use and pay for the project. The client is king – we don’t always like the king, don’t always respect the king, in fact, sometimes we aren’t even in favor of a monarchy but this isn’t the time for a revolution.

So this article is about taking a step back, gathering perspective, and dealing with your feelings and yes, we all have them but sometimes, because we’re professionals so we should set them aside. And breathe!!!

First, why you shouldn’t get angry

It makes you feel better (briefly) but it’s not productive, it’s not worth the stress and at the end of the day..who benefits??

You’re a professional, so act like one (mindset)

The client is paying you for a service and they have every right to request changes, it is completely normal and to be expected. If you were doing someone a favor, it’s a different matter but you are not. You are an expert in your field and should act in a professional manner. If they want it and it’s possible, it will be done, a can-do/will-do attitude, and change your whole outlook.

Of course, you will be asked to make changes, very few projects will be signed-off as perfect on the first go…. and definitely not new projects with new clients. If you get angry every time a client requests a change, then you are going to be one big ball of fury, a lot of the time. 

If an architect was designing your new house, you wouldn’t expect them to get everything spot on the first try. Number of floors, number of rooms, how many bathrooms…of course..the basics yes….but when they present you with that original plan..they know you’ll want changes, tweaks, you have to make it your own…can the windows be bigger, maybe an extra toilet downstairs, how about a Velux window in the roof. And when you go away and think about it, you’ll probably want something else….and if the architect doesn’t listen or kicks up a fuss…well there are plenty of other architects out there looking for work.

Remember you are doing it, because the client has given you the job, at the end of the day they are paying. Bite your tongue, and think of the cash.

You’re the expert, the client isn’t 

How many times does your client request something strange, odd, frankly mind-boggling? Something that leaves you shaking your head. Too many to count I’m sure but a great source of anecdotes in the bar after work. 

Clients know what they want (most of the time or at least have a vague idea) but they can’t do it for themselves. That’s good for you. Be thankful they don’t know it all, or you’d be left twiddling your thumbs. This doesn’t mean you attempt to do whatever they ask, without rhyme or reason.

The client may be always right, but if he is going in the wrong direction you should probably direct him back on track. It’s part of your job to explain to him that this is actually strange or it won’t work or doesn’t make any sense. The client might not know it, but he wants to be informed and explained to, persuaded, and nudged and all the time think he is making the decisions.  

When I take my car to a new mechanic (and I know next to nothing about cars) for an oil change and demand that he puts the cheapest oil of whatever type in my engine, a good mechanic will refuse. It’ll be bad for his reputation when I breakdown a few weeks later. A good mechanic will explain to me (in words of one syllable-hopefully) why this is a bad idea, what will happen if I follow this path, why it is a false economy. Then he will suggest which oil will be better and give me reasons, I’m very likely to go with this suggestion because he knows more than me. I’m also likely to return for my next oil change, and any other work because now he’s gained my trust. I’ll probably recommend him to my friends too.

The double plus here is that it’s both easier for you to do and will produce a better result, as it makes logical sense and you get to show off your worth as a professional by providing expert solutions.

It’s not personal, so don’t take it personally

It’s not really about you, is it? It’s about their project. When clients give feedback they don’t think about your feelings or want to offend you. Well, not all the time, anyway. They just want to get their project done in the way that they envisaged. 

One of the problems with online communication, emails, messages, etc is that without seeing their faces you’re not 100% sure if they are happy or not. This kind of communication, by its nature, is brief, direct and to the point. So, without any intonation, you’re not sure if “Please, could you increase the logo” means – “Could you please, when you have time, increase the logo a bit. Apart from this, I’m so happy how this project is going. You’re doing an awesome job and I’ll tell all my friends about you :)”, or does it mean “I’ve told you a dozen times – make the logo bigger, please!”

At the end of the day, you’re going to increase the logo size, so just do it  – even if it’s with a slight shake of the head and a knowing smile. 

This is equally true of communication with non-native speakers. Often people will communicate with you by translating their own language word for word. This can create a tone that’s hard to judge. For example, many languages don’t use “thank you” and “please”, as often as English – the absence of which can seem rather aggressive and even rude. There are many quirks to writing styles, don’t over-think everything that’s written to you, and dissect every word for deeper meaning.

The client liked your work, he just hasn’t said so

It’s easier to find fault than find favor. 

Most of the time clients will tell you only what he wants to change. He’ll miss all the great things you did on a project and he will point only what he doesn’t like. This does not mean that he doesn’t like all the work you’ve done. This is actually how our brains work – we usually notice negative things more easily. There is a whole body of research about that. So… let’s imagine that you did a website design for a client, and he starts answering like this.

   – The logo is great. The color is great, the shape is perfect, the size is awesome and the position of the logo is exactly where it should be
   – The font you’ve chosen is awesome. It’s the perfect size, perfect color. Great work!
   – The hero illustration you’ve added is awesome. Can’t find words to describe it!
   – The “about” section is super!
   – The “call to action” button is exactly how I wanted to be!
   – etc, etc.

And then,

   – The only thing I want to change is the image in the “services” section.

Get my point? What’s the point of telling you that he liked everything but the services section? No one talks like this. And it will be a waste of time for you and your client.

Moreover, people are different, so clients are different. Some clients will always tell you “you’ve done such a great job, I love it!”. Others, however, will not. This does not mean they are not happy with your work, it’s just how they communicate.

Leave your ego in the adjoining room

Ego – we all have it. Some of us have it more, others less. Newcomers to the profession usually have it more than they need. 

So when the client starts asking for revisions, changes, and updates, our ego is bruised. But pride comes before a fall. We thought what we had made was the best their money could buy.  You’ve followed the requests to the letter and even improved upon them. And, we start getting angry at the client’s requests. Confidence is a good thing, overconfidence can quickly lead to arrogance, not a quality anybody wants in their employees or freelancers. 

Our advice – stay humble and don’t take anything too personally. Nod a lot, smile a lot, and let things bounce off you. And bear in mind, they might actually have a point – you are not perfect.

Let’s be a bit empathetic

Put yourself in your client’s shoes.

You’re a client too, you use other services, professional services similar to yours. Let’s imagine you’ve ordered custom work, a project of your own. You have a clear idea in your mind what the end product should be, but you can’t do it yourself, it’s not your specialty. So you hire a professional – a person/or a company, who has the skill and knowledge to do your job and also is easy and friendly to work with (ask yourself – is this you?). 

They do the work and send you some progress reports, you’re not 100% happy and you want one or two things changed. Then you make a few rounds of revisions. Been there? Anything wrong with that? Do you think that the company is not doing a great job? Of course NOT, that’s the normal process of working on custom projects. I’m not sure there is a company on this planet that can make what you want with the first revision. No one can read your mind (yet), so in order for the company to understand what you want, they will send you the progress on your project and tweak it until you’re happy with it. That’s how it works.

Would you be happy to work with you? Understanding, empathetic, open-minded, conciliatory- key soft skills. The reward, long term business relationships.

Take some rest and eat something

Take a break, move away from the screen, do something different, change the scene……it doesn’t have to be two weeks in the Caribbean. 10-15 minutes should be enough, but if they’ve sent you 20 updates, let’s make it an hour. Rest or nap, or go outside and take your dog for a walk (if you work remotely, these days a lot of us do), it doesn’t really matter, the point is when you get back you should be calm, able to work with a clear mind and ready to do what the client requested.

And food….you need fuel. Research suggests that when people are hungry they get easily more angry. Did we really need the research? The word Hangry has recently become an official dictionary entry in the English language. Maybe that’s why business people usually make important deals at lunch or dinner. Although that doesn’t explain golf!  So next time you’re starting to get angry by the client’s feedback – go grab a snack or eat some bananas. 

But let’s leave the booze until the end of the day!

Final words

Keep calm, head down, and carry on. Get the project done, sit back, and expect the feedback. Good or bad, lots or little – take it, deal with it – move on. Let’s put some perspective in place, you are a professional in a service industry, not everybody is going to fall in love with you instantly. Build on the positives, take heed of the negatives… and talk about it with friends and colleagues.