25 Tips for Avoiding Communication Problems

Miscommunication is a huge obstacle to building a successful relationship. And, since freelancer/client trust is based on relationship–miscommunication can be a huge problem for freelancers.

Nearly every freelancer eventually faces a communication problem with a client. Even those of us who specialize in clear communication sometimes have problems.

In this post, I’ll describe some steps that every freelancer can take to avoid miscommunication.

How to Avoid Communication Problems

Here are twenty-five ways that freelancers can dramatically reduce client communication problems:

  1. Be proactive–Research and learn everything you can about your client and your client’s business before you meet with them. Find out what some of the common problems are your client’s industry.
  2. Manage your expectations–Every client and every project is unique. While we can learn from past clients and projects, it’s important to understand that this client and this project may be different from what you’ve experienced in the past.
  3. Listen carefully–Pay close attention to what your client says. Take notes if you need to, especially during a long meeting or a confusing discussion.
  4. Pay attention to non-verbal signals like tone of voice or body language–Often words are not the only way that your client is communicating with you. Pay attention to their posture and facial expressions. If you are meeting by phone, listen carefully to your client’s voice for clues as to what they may be thinking.
  5. Ask questions–If you are unsure about something, ask. It is better to ask a question now than proceed based on an incorrect assumption.
  6. Repeat your understanding back to the client–It’s often a good idea to put what the client said into your own words and repeat it back to them. This can insure that you really understand what they mean.
  7. Don’t forget about cultural differences–Different cultures communicate differently and may have different ways of conducting business. If your client is from a culture that is different from your own, make sure that you learn about the cultural differences before you meet.
  8. Park your preconceptions at the door–It’s easy to jump to conclusions about a project or a person. Even if you suspect that this will be an easy project or this will be difficult person to work with, try to put those feelings aside until they can be confirmed. Preconceived notions can keep you from understanding what is really going on.
  9. Be open to new ideas–You’re probably an expert in your field. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be as successful in your field as you are. But even experts can sometimes learn from their clients. Make sure that you are willing to learn new things.
  10. Avoid emotional words–Being a freelancer is a lot like being a diplomat. Some words are just too emotionally charged to have any place in a business conversation. Avoid those words.
  11. Be understanding, not critical–As a professional, sooner or later you’ll probably be called in to fix somebody else’s mistake. Whether it be something the client did wrong or the mistake of a previous freelancer, don’t immediately start criticizing it. After all, anyone could make a mistake.
  12. Don’t communicate when you’re upset–If you’re angry or hurt, then now is not a good time to talk with a client or send an email. Many freelancers have fired off an angry email, only to regret it later.
  13. Check for typos and grammatical errors–Grammar and typos can cause your client to misunderstand you. If you do believe me consider that there’s a huge difference in agreeing to do a job for $10.00 and agreeing to do it for $1000. A misplaced period CAN make a difference.
  14. Pay attention to your tone (especially online)–There’s something peculiar to online writing. You can type one thing and your client can perceive something that you did not intend. That’s why it’s important to check all emails to make sure your tone is appropriate. The best way to do this is to get someone else to read them before you send them.
  15. Get it in writing–While this is true for all freelancing projects, getting something in writing is especially important for long projects. When a project drags out it’s just too easy for you or your client to forget the details of your agreement.
  16. Better yet, get a contract–A great means of avoiding misunderstanding with a client is to get a signed contract that outlines the details. A signed contract also gives you some legal advantages if you have serious problems later on.
  17. Get a partial payment upfront–A client who pays upfront is usually more committed to a project’s success than one who hasn’t invested anything yet. A client who doesn’t make an upfront payment may try to cancel before the project is finished, while the client who made the advance payment will want to recoup his or her initial investment.
  18. Keep good records–Some miscommunication is due to sloppy recordkeeping. Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure that you document everything including: client meetings, original project scope, scope changes, and any other factors that affect the project.
  19. Stay in touch–This is especially important if you are working on a long deadline. Don’t let too much time pass without touching base with your client. Often, just a short status to let them know that the project is on track is enough to keep them from worrying.
  20. Be reachable by email or phone–You can’t be communicated with if you can’t be reached. Make sure that your client has a working email address and/or phone number that they can use to reach you.
  21. Don’t make it personal–If your client criticizes your project or complains, remember that it’s not about you. Don’t take negative comments personally. Rather, try to find out if the situation can be resolved.
  22. Share problems you are having–Too many freelancers wait until the last minute to let a client know that they are struggling or having problems. However, clients don’t like last-minute notification of problems (especially if it means the project will be delayed).
  23. Ask for feedback–Your communication with the client is not over when the project ends. Instead, ask the client for feedback on your work and on the process. You may able to learn something from this project to help you with your next project.
  24. Keep your materials (such as your website and marketing literature) up to date–Out-of-date marketing materials can also create miscommunication. If you’ve changed anything about how you do business, such as the rate you charge or the type of work that you do, make sure that your materials reflect those changes.
  25. If necessary, find a mediator–In the most extreme situations, when a large sum of money is involved, you may need to turn to a professional mediator or arbitrar to resolve your differences.

What About You?

How do you avoid client communication problems?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Clemson