Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conflict Management: When Your Back is Up Against the Wall

This weekend I had client contact me by email very annoyed that I had sent him a contract for an upcoming freelance writing project. He basically stated that he felt insulted that I would continue sending them after we'd had such a successful business transaction with the last project. Let me just state for the record that he is a new client, and I have only completed one freelance writing project for him so far. I'm working on the second one. I don't know about you, but I don't consider that a whole lot of history in our relationship.

His email continued to state emphatically that he would not sign another contract. Imagine my surprise after spending a lovely day out with my daughter to come home to such a snarky email? I immediately felt that familiar heat come over me.

I've mentioned my previous job as an advertising sales representative for a local newspaper here before. Even though it really wasn't my cup of tea, I received some very valuable training. That training has turned out to be a real asset as I build my freelance writing career. Anyone who's ever worked for someone else has very likely cultivated some very necessary survival skills that can easily carry over into running your own business.

Customer service was a big part of my job. But that's something that I do naturally. I like helping people solve their problems, and my personality is pretty upbeat. But I could kiss the feet of my old job for the conflict management skills they gave me. I am a hot-headed girl by nature, so I don't need much prodding to get me worked up. The conflict management training, handling unhappy advertising clients and just dealing with silly office politics has taught me a lot.

I have had a few conversations over the phone with this particular client. He has a forceful personality. The first thing I had to do was calm down and put myself in his shoes. It would be a mistake to just jump to conclusions. Once I knew I was calm I responded to his email explaining that I do not do business without a contract for my own protection and my clients' protection as well. I went on to explain that I respected his position and his business, but I would not compromise that policy of my business.

It felt good to know that I didn't have to just go along with something I didn't agree with. I have done that for so many years working in a corporate setting that sending that email felt completely liberating – even at the expense of possibly losing the client. I mean you can't just go along with everything in the name of a dollar. You have to stand up for your business, but you should always be professional no matter what.

In the end, the client responded to my firm emailed answer with a response asking me to create an annual agreement for him instead. He just wanted to sign it once and continue sending in his freelance writing projects. Thankfully things worked out well for both of us. Conflict resolution is an important skill that teaches you how to diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand. It doesn't mean that everyone will always be happy in the end, but nine times out of 10, the situation will be a lot less volatile if you take control and remain calm. Have you ever been forced to diffuse a difficult situation as a freelance writer/blogger?


Michele said...

I'm glad things worked out. It's amazing what clients can get upset about. Too bad he simply couldn't have put his wishes in the first e-mail instead of being such a ****.

Hope your day goes well,

Avid Writer said...

Thanks for commenting, michele. It's funny - I noticed that he was little pushy when we first started talking on the phone, but I thought it was just me. I don't know why he was being so difficult either, but he was was very respectful after I drew my line in the sand. I guess some people push you to see how far they can go.:)

Devon Ellington said...

You handled it very well. I, too, do not do business without a contract. Even with an "annual agreement", though, I would still insist on 50% up front per project. I just don't trust people enough to do work without a deposit! ;)

Also, I agree with michele -- if he wanted a one-and-only agreement for on-going work, he should have made it clear up front.

Well done.

Avid Writer said...

Devon, I think you're right about continuing to insist on a deposit. I'm making sure that's included in the annual agreement!

Yuwanda Black said...

Kimberly you're so funny. I tend to have a very hot temper too. It doesn't take much to get me from 0 60. One of the great challenges I had to overcome as a young adult was learning to control it.

Having a temper though has served me well as a business owner b/c I don't let clients walk all over me -- no matter how desperate I may be for work.

You handled the situation beautifully. The corporate world does indeed teach great lessons. I learned this one as well.


Kimberly Ben said...

Thanks, Yuwanda. I often say that I wish I had started freelancing full-time years ago, but I honestly think working a corporate job for so long is the reason I am so appreciative of what I do now and determined to be successful.

Getting older and wiser has tamed my temper a lot. Some things just aren't worth the energy.:)

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