7 Ways to Tell a Client He’s Wrong
Telling a client that he is, in fact, wrong can be the hardest thing you ever have to do in your freelance career. It’s not something that we generally consider to be a healthy step: it can lose you a client pretty quickly if not handled properly.
Even if a client accepts that he is incorrect about something, it may still be harder to work with him in the long run.
Here are a few options for telling a client that he’s wrong, with a little more grace.
- “X has been updated recently.” Especially when working with anything the least bit technical, I’ve found that clients lock on to concepts that may have been possible with past technology but aren’t handled the same way now. A good turn of phrase is to point to a recent update, rather than trying to tell a client he’s wrong.
- “Can I suggest an alternative?” By talking about the right way as another option — one with better odds of working — you don’t have to tell a client he’s wrong, while still getting the right way to do things on the table.
- “Look at this piece of evidence.” In many cases, if you present your evidence correctly, a smart client can come to the conclusion that he was incorrect, without you needing to explicitly state it.
- “Why do you want to do things this way?” Most clients don’t actually make decisions out of the blue, no matter how much it might feel that way. If you can dig deeper and understand the logic behind the situation, you can explain things in a way that addresses their concerns.
- “X did it this way.” Pick some big names that your client will know and break down how those individuals or organizations tackled the problem (preferably in line with your suggestions). If you personally worked with those organizations and have first person knowledge, dive in as deep as you can go.
- “You’re paying me for my expertise.” Sometimes a client just doesn’t want to listen. You may have no option but to sit her down and explain that the reason you charge as much as you do is because you’re an expert in your field and you have the experience to make judgment calls.
- “You’re wrong.” I admit: there’s no grace at all in this option, but it’s still worth trying. There’s a lot of ways that this option can go wrong, but if you’re comfortable with your client, just saying it straight out can save so much time. Be civil, of course, but be honest. You can jump in, get things fixed and move on.
Of course, you can always let a client go on in the wrong direction. If they’re asking you to do something that you can handle just as easily as doing things the right way, it’s tempting to just go along with things and get paid. In some cases, just walking away from the project as a whole may feel even better.
But isn’t it better to work with clients who get things right? Invest the time to talk a client through the situation and you can get there.