How much of the world’s problems and misunderstandings be solved if we stopped managing each other’s reactions?

This question haunts me a lot. Because a lot of the problems I see freelancers make is when they move beyond helping their clients to managing their client’s reactions.

Client management is not about managing reactions. It’s about managing client expectations.

The two are incredibly distinct.

When you are managing a client’s reactions, you are:

  • Attempting to avoid negative emotions or feedback to the point of making the act of avoidance more important than clarity or providing the full story
  • Reducing the choices your client has by reducing the amount of information available to make a decision
  • Saying you don’t believe in that client’s ability to surprise you or to make reasonable choices

But more than that, in managing a client’s reactions, we’re putting our own ego first. We’re saying that delivering difficult news and giving someone the benefit of the doubt isn’t worth our time. And that protecting ourselves is more important than being truthful.

When we lean in on managing client expectations, we:

  • Setup reasonable boundaries
  • Are proactive about the work
  • Are collaborating alongside the client with the project in the centre of the experience
  • Transparent about our process and approach.

You can’t expect a client to exercise good behaviour if you don’t manage their expectations. But you can’t expect them to respect you if you’re managing their reactions and you get caught doing it.

So, how do you find the balance between the two?

It comes down to belief and trust.

Want is scratched onto glass to signify client expectationsIf a client doesn’t believe in you and doesn’t trust you have their best interests at heart, you won’t be able to effectively manage them. And if you don’t believe in your client’s ability to comprehend the work or to do the right thing by you, you’ll probably end up focusing on reactions over the good of the project.

The intelligent move is to go into every project with optimism that both of you will succeed. And to make sure you’re not reluctant when you choose to enter the work. Because any issues will feel far worse than they could be.

And keep your ego in reasonable bounds. Accept that you’re not the client’s only option. That even if you are amazing at what you do, they still have a better insight into their audience than you do. And if the project isn’t right for you, move on.

In all things, choose to respond to a situation over lean in on a reaction. That way, you’re both making sure you are thinking things through with the project at the centre. You don’t want to act in a way that does more damage than you anticipate as a result.

And always remember that:

  • You don’t have to like someone to help them – and they don’t have to like you, either
  • The work we do for our clients is subjective
  • The scale of the work is influenced by budget, attitude and resources
  • A rejection of the work isn’t personal
  • The client has to live through the consequences of their decisions
  • You still get paid regardless of the outcome.

 How do you make sure the client expectations are reasonable?

Transparency is your friend.

Make sure the client knows:

  • What they are getting and what that entails
  • What you expect them to do
  • Why you’ve made the choices you have
  • How much it will cost
  • When they will be getting it
  • How it will be delivered
  • The expected result.

They want to be able to stay in contact with you. That doesn’t mean they get to ring you every minute and talk to you through every communication device on the planet. But it does mean that they understand a delivery timeline as well as when and how they can discuss things with you.

In all things, realise that your best asset in managing client expectations is pro-activity. If you’re ahead of their anticipated needs, they will generally feel calm. If they don’t know what is happening and when it’s happening, of course they will freak out. Humans grow anxious when they don’t know what to expect.

The more you supply routine, the more they’ll feel OK about trusting you.

Want more help managing client expectations? Check out the Client Management blog section. And come to the new Patreon class on Client Improv. Opening soon.


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