Over the years, I’ve had experiences with contractors that never should have happened. With the one, she just wasn’t jazzed by the work she was doing. Another was afraid to look incompetent and wouldn’t ask questions to get the clarity she needed the work. Another was overcapacity and unable to handle everything on her plate. All of them didn’t want to disappoint me—either by asking questions or by telling me her truth, so they continued to work, made really silly and stupid mistakes that ended up costing me time, energy, a lot of grief, and (you guessed it), they ended up disappointing me, anyway.
I actually think it’s truly lovely to not want to disappoint a client you like. But if you don’t ask the questions that need to be asked, don’t speak your truth, stay when you know you should go, and end up making mistakes or doing less-than-stellar work, you damage the relationship by betraying the client’s trust in you. While that may be able to be repaired, it’s smarter to avoid going there to begin with. There are two things to remember:
- Tell the truth, always, as soon as you see it.
- Be awake and aware… conscious, if you will, to what’s happening in your life and work, so that you recognize the truth when it shows up (because it always shows up!)
It’s not your job to worry about how your client (or anyone else in your life, for that matter) is going to feel about the truth when you tell it, so get the worry about disappointing out of your head. Your job is to do the right thing, for the client and for yourself, by saying what’s so, rather than trying to continue on a path that’s right for no one.
The biggest question I hear around this is, “How do I do that? How do I tell a client I’m unhappy and need to do something else, or that I have too much going on to keep doing what I’m doing, or that I’m still unclear about what she wants me to do?” First, do it either face-to-face, or by phone/video. Never do it by email.
Set up a time to talk, and once there, just say what’s so: “I’m finding I’m not enjoying the work, and can’t continue to do it.” “I have far too much on my plate right now, and unfortunately can’t continue to work with you.” “I’m making some changes to my busines, and, unfortunately, that means we need to bring our work to a close.” “I really want to do this right, and find that the more I get into it, the more questions I have. I want to understand ________ better. Can you help me?” The difficulty isn’t in knowing what to say, because you know what’s going on with you…so say that and only that.
With regard to your questions, she should always answer them. No matter how many times you need to ask about something. Now, it’s true that sometimes, there may just be a disconnect in how you two communicate, which could be getting in the way of your understanding. If you think that’s going on, address that. Fix that. Or, if it’s not fixable, say that truth and move on.
With regard to some unhappiness you’re experiencing, or a decision to take your business in a different direction, give the client a chance to respond to what you’ve said, and then, smartly, offer suggestions for getting the specific work done that you don’t want to do, or finding your replacement (always come to the table with suggestions for a remedy, rather than just coming with a challenge).
Be prepared to continue to do the thing you need to stop doing for a reasonable amount of time (several weeks at the least) so that the client can find another way to handle things and put in place. And, while you’re still doing the work…do the work well—the way it deserves to be done.
When you discuss what’s going on, in fairly short order, you’ll find yourself out of the situation you want to be out of, and free of the burden you’ve been carrying. Staying, and making errors because you’re afraid to disappoint (or because you’re afraid to have what may be a difficult conversation) is a great way to ruin your reputation, and, as I said, the very relationship you didn’t want to damage in the first place. By being awake and aware about what’s happening in your life and work, and being willing to immediately tell the truth about it, you can avoid all of this, and feel much better about yourself and your practice, to boot!
Maybe remember just this: A joyful and authentic “yes” is always better than any other “yes” else you can offer. If you can’t say yes joyfully and authentically, sooner or later, you’ll land in resentment and into problems—certainly of your own creation. Saying “no” from the start, no matter how hard or scary that may be, always leads to far better outcomes for everyone.