All of us have an internal expectation of ourselves and others. It’s really important to not only be aware of our expectations of ourselves and others – but to manage those expectations. We have to compare that to the reality of the situation and also leave room for grace, because we’re all just human with the best intentions (usually). I believe the benefit of the doubt can go a long way. People tend to live up (or down) to our expectations of them.
When I first start working with someone, I try to be very clear of what I’m expecting of them and ask questions to find out what their expectations are of me. Usually it goes something like, “Since the logo is the most important thing to you and what we’ll use to build everything else off of, I’ll start working on that first and send you a draft of a couple options by Tuesday.” They know what they’ll get, why they’re getting it first, and when they’ll get it. That also leaves room for them to correct me if that isn’t the most important element or if they need it sooner or later.
Following the ‘take care of the customer first’ rule, after I let them know what their part is, I let them know what I need from them. I need very honest and specific feedback. I tell them what kind of feedback I need and how to give it. Feedback in person, video, or over the phone is best since I work intuitively and it’s easy for me to pick up subtle cues that way. If they don’t like a concept, just say, “I don’t like #4” and move on. When I hear too many details about something they don’t like, I start focusing on those details rather than on what they do want – especially if there’s more details about that one than the one they like. When they like something, I want to know everything. The colors, the shape, the feel, as many details as possible so that I can build on that to make something greater.
I set a foundation of work habits in the beginning. I protect my weekends so I can take a break or work on my personal projects. Letting people know the foundation of my schedule up front (No weekends, Calls and interaction Monday – Friday 8AM – 4PM EST unless we schedule something specifically outside those hours) makes things run a lot smoother in the long run.
This has been a pretty painful process to learn. In the beginning, I gave all my power away to the client and left it completely open. That really shuts down the dialogue and instantly gives off the message of “I am your slave and have nothing else important going on.” It’s also a huge cop out of responsibility. If you’re freelancing and in charge of your own business, YOU have to be in charge of it. Letting a client determine your hours is a huge responsibility for them. Not to mention, really unfair since when you start feeling taken advantage of (and you will) you will start to blame them even though you put them in that position.
Once I realized this a few years ago (and am continually working on it), I was VERY clunky about how to voice my boundaries with people.
***Personal Experience Rambley Time —
My first guinea pig was with a client I had been working with for 2 years or so. I had been feeling ‘off’ about our work relationship since the beginning – The work wasn’t my style, I didn’t enjoy it in the slightest and wasn’t proud of the work I was producing, it took forever for things to go through committees but he paid extremely well and I had some knowledge of his products. I eventually couldn’t take it anymore and we had a phone conversation. I ended up telling him I just didn’t feel right about the work I was doing and it made me feel … icky. <- Yes, I actually said that to a client. No ragrets.
He was actually far more understanding than I ever imagined. I finished the part of the project we were working on and handed off the work I had done and all the source files so the next designer he found would have what they needed. No bridges were burned and and he still referred me to people afterwards. <- I was most surprised about that! He sincerely liked my work and liked working with me.
I learned two things from this experience : 1. Give people room to be understanding. and 2. People will respect you more when you respect yourself.
I was so afraid I was going to say the wrong thing, completely burn bridges, destroy my reputation, cause the other person to have a lot of trouble, and in general be the villain in the story. But the reality was, when I had that conversation with people I had already been working with – they were completely understanding, empathetic, and even encouraging. In general, I believe people don’t want to take advantage of you. They care just as much about their reputation as you do yours – they just need your input to let them know what you’re expecting of them. Nobody can read minds! Until you learn how to voice your own standards, you’ll continue to feel used and abused. If you’re too afraid to do that, accept the responsibility and realize that’s what you have to put up with until you’re ready to face your own insecurity.
The same philosophy applies to all relationships. If you don’t set clear boundaries in the beginning, it can really come back to bite you later on. Even if you realize this later on in the relationship, it’s still possible to start setting boundaries ASAP. It’s just much more difficult since you and the other person both have preconceived ideas of the interactions – that means you need to be extremely consistent, which is a lot of pressure. But in the end, it’s the same concept. It’s enough work for one person to take responsibility of their own actions, it’s not fair to expect others to ‘just know’ what you need and how to interact with you.
Once you’re aware, it’s up to you to tell them what you’re thinking (because no, they don’t “just know”), you have two choices. A.) Choose to keep feeling like the victim (which means you’re giving up your right to complain about it since you know how to fix it!) or B.) speak up and risk being all those horror stories you’re telling yourself coming true (usually they won’t, but if they did – is it really the end of the world?). It’s very uncomfortable if you’re not used to standing up for yourself, but very temporary.
This small change can catapult you into an entire new mindset about your beliefs of yourself and other people. It’s well worth building your character to get out of that victim state of mind. Take your power back!