Tricky customers: we’ve all had them, and we’ve all been them. If your business offers a bespoke service, rather than an off-the-shelf product, then it’s quite possible that your collaborative creative journey will at some point experience a few bumps in the road. This is natural, and can even be a healthy sign of how passionate both you and your customer are about the final results. But when it comes down to the bottom line, and your professional integrity as a writer for hire / graphic designer / stylist / whatever won’t allow you to cross a particular threshold, it can be hard to actually express this position. You don’t want to upset or offend the customer.
I was working with a friend today – a graphic designer – who was looking for the right language to assert herself in an email exchange. As a web content creator with a bunch of English degrees and a expertise in language, she was interested in how I would word this kind of message. Now, this designer is a warm, receptive person, but her customer is pressing for a change that she feels would drastically compromise the quality of the end result. So we worked together on a variety of ways that would allow her to confidently, politely and positively assert her expertise. (Because her expertise is what they are paying her for, after all!)
How to say no without saying no
Never mind the old cliché that ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’: in reality, ‘no’ is much more difficult. As social creatures, we naturally want to accommodate each other and keep our relationships ticking over smoothly. Saying ‘no’ can feel too much like rocking the boat, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. And if you’re a business owner or freelancer, saying no might even bring you out in a head-to-toe rash, as you don’t always know what other jobs – if any – await next month. As a freelance copywriter, I can identify with the urge to say yes to just about anything (including that entire packet of chocolate Hobnobs calling me from the kitchen cupboard).
But let’s be real. You don’t need me to tell you that when you have a set of core principles, You. Must. Stick. To. Them. Your work matters to you. You’re aiming for perfection. You have listened and negotiated and collaborated in every possible area. And yet, from time to time, you may feel compelled to root your feet firmly to the ground and declare “I shall not budge”.
Back to my graphic designer friend, then.
She could say it like this:
“No, sorry, Client Z. A monochromatic logo wouldn’t be a good choice. It looks too basic and dull, and it doesn’t fit with your theme. It wouldn’t stand out against your website colour either, so nobody would even notice it.”
Or perhaps she could say this:
“Thanks for your feedback, Client Z. Here at Business X, we always use colour in our logos to ensure they pop against a contrasting page background. We get great results with this approach: would you feel more confident after looking at a couple of slam-dunk examples?”
… I know which one I prefer!
So, as it happens, it is possible to say no without saying no. The positive emphasis on what you do do is much more pleasant and encouraging than the negative emphasis on what you don’t do. A disagreement doesn’t have to shut down the creative conversation. Plus, using qualifiers like “always”, “every” or “only” underscores that all-important line that you’ve drawn, without having to say “no” or “never”.
How else does this language keep things positive? Well, the inclusive pronoun “we” keeps you and the customer united, reminding them that you’re in this project together. There’s an incentive offered for trusting your expertise (the popping colour and those great results), along with the offer of more time or effort to reassure the customer that this really is the best approach.
Sure, both versions are rejecting a suggestion, and there’s no getting away from that. But how you say something is just as important, if not more so, than what you’re saying. Positivity is the key!
TL;DR version: always look on the bright side of life.
Freelance writer UK / writer for hire
Psssst: If you’re looking to hire a writer for website work, advertisement writing, magazine features or blog posts, drop me a message or check out my instant purchase page. If you want to create a strong brand voice, increase web traffic to your site, get more blog readers, create a killer sales page, or get on top search rankings and get higher up in Google, I’m your gal.