How to disagree without sounding like a jerk.

We’ve all encountered crappy clients, mean people and disrespectful associates. They are everywhere and they are everybody (at one point or another it has been you). So how do you respond to a rude comment or an insensitive request? I learned to stop, listen and take a deep breath from almost every cartoon in PBS and like Daniel Tiger sings, “When you feel SO mad that you want to ROAR take a deep breath … and count to four.” The idea is to not think with emotion because sometimes when feelings are hurt, value and information can get lost in translation.

A while ago, a client emailed me with what I instantly classified as “Ridiculous Feedback.” To give you a gist of the situation: project is in approval stage with one more round of changes if needed, the next day I receive an email with a general “Let’s change the whole concept, it looks great, but I don’t know what I want. This other person said this would sound better, can you change the text to: Something that would make no sense.” Why I was so upset was for their lack of communication, direction, and care for the project as a whole. I break down my process in steps to make sure we are all on the same page and sometimes that still doesn’t help. I was just thinking, “how do I respond to this? This whole conversation forwarded to me (in the email between different people) doesn’t make any sense! Why didn’t they tell me their concerns when we spoke yesterday?”

How do you tell someone they are going down a different road than previously discussed without sounding like a jerk? All I kept typing as a response was “This doesn’t make any sense! That is not your business model, those are not your business values and it would take so much more work within your business to represent a culture like the one you are trying to portray in this ONE design.” But, I was thinking too deep into their words and I definitely didn’t want to insult anyone. I took a chill pill (drank some coffee and read a book). I went back to the email because I have to respond as soon as possible, no one likes to wait, and I reread the email which sparked an idea, did some quick research and suggested a couple solutions that welcomed their feedback but still kept the spirit of the whole project. I was proud of myself and our results.

If you are lucky enough to get insulted via email instead of an instant source of communication (like in person or a phone call) then remember to “take a deep breath … count to four” and shift your mind before you respond. My problem in the situation above was all based on emotion. I was insulted by their lack of communication and style that their implicit direction for the project was just a slap in the face, but all boo-boos aside they weren’t completely happy with the message and as a professional, I needed to guide them and address any feedback provided. See any negative feedback as an opportunity to improve the design instead of a change that will ruin the aesthetic and function.

See any negative feedback as an opportunity to improve the design instead of a change that will ruin the aesthetic and function. It is always better to try to understand where they are coming from than to dismiss another person’s ideas as ridiculous and unnecessary. We are all different and uniting minds can sometimes be a challenge so receive critiques with an open mind and willingness to apply other solutions. Give your solutions and don’t forget or feel ashamed to charge more if necessary! After all, it’s business, not charity (and even then don’t accept abuse and set your limits).

Do you have anything to add? Let me know! Take care and have fun. 🙂

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