I remember the heat running across the back of my shoulders.

My arms ached as they screamed at me to pick up my computer and throw it through the window a couple floors above the ground.

I’m not unlike anyone else, I get angry, but this was a whole other level of frustration. I wasn’t just angry, I was hateful, and spiteful, and wanted to burn the world away.

Because a client didn’t like what I’d done.

. . .


. . .

Luckily that hasn’t happened in a very long time. But it did happen, and when I look back, it was mostly in the first couple years of my career.

What’s crazy is that some of us get caught in this cycle for a lot longer than we’d like to admit. We think every client is an idiot who is just out to stop us from expressing ourselves and doing what’s right.

Some clients might drive us to this point. In the story above, the client didn’t say “Naaaaah, sorry, I’m not sure I like this one.”

They used words like “hate,” “awful,” “pathetic,” and “it just doesn’t make sense.” I won’t go on about this one job, and how the client hadn’t provided any copy, imagery, context, or goals, because, ahem, this one job doesn’t matter. And I’m totally over it.

At the centre of it all is a simple fact: we make things with the expectation that the client will like them.

That expectation often comes from ego – we’re good at what we do, and so they should appreciate what we’ve given them.

Then when things sour, it feels like they’re spitting in the face of our talents.

No wonder we get angry.

But what we really have to ask is this:

Are you angry because the client acted a certain way, or because you were expecting them to act differently?

This is a trick question.

We get angry because we always expect them to act differently.

Hidden in the confusion of this anger is a clue.

If we can figure out what went wrong and where, we can stop it from happening next time, or at least, lower the chances of it popping up again.

We can hedge our bets. We can ask questions, figure out exactly what the client is expecting and why.

Sometimes this means making their problem crystal clear for them, while making them see that their initial idea might not be solving that problem.

Sometimes this means accepting that our vision for their project isn’t right either.

We also have to realise that just because we’re the professionals, it doesn’t mean they’ll like our version of professionalism, and what it produces.

In other words we have to make sure everyone is in the loop.

Both designer and client have to be very clear about what the problem is, have to understand why the solution is the solution, and need to understand what to expect.

It’s rare for a random idea to actually have any affect on us, but this one seemed to knock me around a little.

It put so many relationships and fights I’d either been in or witnessed into perspective and somehow almost made them all seem avoidable.

I think in many ways, what’s needed for a relationship with a client to work well is many of the things that a relationship with any friend or relative require – trust, openness, communication, and an understanding that the other person is a, well, person.

How do you deal with anger? How do you avoid unmet expectations? Do you think that’s what leads to most of our anger?

~ ~ ~

Please Note: I always thought the idea of anger being unmet expectation came from the Stoic philosopher Seneca. I’m not so sure now, as I can’t seem to find a clean-cut reference to the idea. What do you think? Does it sound familiar? Know a source?